A sprinting cheetah is like “a rear-wheel-drive car,” say scientists.
Japanese researchers mapped the muscles fibres of the big cat known to accelerate to record-breaking speeds.
By comparing the cheetah’s muscles with those of a domestic cat and dog, the team identified the special propulsion power of its hindlimb muscles.
The study is the first to investigate muscle fibre distribution across the whole of the cheetah’s body,
The findings are published in the journal Mammalian Biology and examine how the muscle fibres of domestic cats and dogs compare with those of the world’s fastest land mammal.
“The study of muscles is indispensable to understand the cheetah’s run,” said Dr Naomi Wada, the study’s co-author and Professor in System Physiology at Yamaguchi University in Japan.
Different types of muscle fibre are suited to different activities, explained Dr Wada.
In all the animals studied, so-called Type I fibres produced a small force output but were resistant to fatigue, making them best suited to maintaining posture and slow walking.
Type IIa fibre performance was best suited to fast walking and trotting whereas Type IIx or “fast” fibres created a high force output but had low endurance and were key to fast running or galloping.
By mapping the distribution of fibres across the muscles of a cheetah’s body, scientists were able to gain insights into the animal’s impressive sprint technique.
“The forelimb muscles in the cheetah included [the] most Type I muscle fibres of all three animals… while the muscle of hind limb muscles have many Type IIx fibres.”
“The functional difference between forelimb and hindlimb is the most remarkable in the cheetah,” said Dr Wada.