Most people will be able to tell you that the cheetah is the fastest land animal or that Usain bolt is the fastest sprinter in the world. But, there’s a smaller and faster group of creatures that are often overlooked……….the insects.
Usain Bolt has a top speed of 44.2 kmph which equates to 6 body lengths per second (bl/s). A cheetah, the fastest land mammal can reach speeds of 110 – 120 km/h which equates to 16bl/s. These are both pretty impressive speeds but pale in comparison to tiger beetles.
In 1996 Scientists in the Netherlands measured the running speed of two tiger beetle species, Cicindela eburneola and Cicindela hudsoni from Australia. They were found to run at 6.8km/h and 9km/h respectively.
Cicindela eburneola’s top speed of 6.8 km/h doesn’t sound too impressive at first, until you take into account its small size. If you translate its speed into body lengths per seconds it equates to a staggering 170bl/s. To put this into perspective; if a human could run at 170bl/s they would be running at 772km/h.
All tiger beetle species are predatory, and you’d think that being so fast would be an incredible boon to any predator but running at these immense speeds does have a slight disadvantage. Tiger beetles run so fast that their world becomes a blur because their eyes cannot process information (photons) that fast.
To get around this problem, tiger beetles pause mid chase to relocate their prey before resuming their pursuit. It may sound like a flawed strategy but when you’re that fast what does it matter if you stop for a small break, the prey isn’t going to get away.
I hope you’ve gained a little knowledge about these cool beetles, and next time you’re out and about in nature, pause, look down, there’s a lot to see. I tend to spot these incredible beetles along forest paths, on beaches and near rivers. At first they may be hard to spot. As you walk they take off like a flash flying away from you, but they usually land a metre or two away. So, like someone playing the shell game you have to watch intensely until you see it stop, then it’s just a case of slowly creeping up on them until you’re close enough to see them. They can be quite beautiful when you do spot them. Here are a few that I’ve managed to spot so far….Pretty cool, huh? They’re so intricate and pretty up close, something you’d definitely miss if you didn’t know what you we’re looking for. Well, now you know, so….”happy tiger beetle spotting!”