A Dyna-Mite Runner

Rarely studied species takes the prize for fastest land animal

Paratarsotomus macropalpis leaves the cheetah completely in the dust.     Photo: sophiek_robertson/iStock

The fastest land animal in the world is the size of a sesame seed and has legs the size of splinters. That doesn't stop Paratarsotomus macropalpis, a species of mite found in southern California, from covering ground at about 20 times the rate of a cheetah.

Samuel Rubin, a physics student at Pitzer College, discovered the new record holder by measuring how many of its own body lengths the mite covered per second. A Paratarsotomus macropalpis traveling at top speeds hit 322 body lengths in one second. By comparison, a cheetah covers a measly 16 body lengths per second. 

A human would have to travel 1,300 miles per hour to accomplish the same rate of speed as this mite, but we can still learn something from this tiny champion. Rubin hopes that understanding the physics behind the mite's incredible speed could inform designs for robots or other helpful devices. Not bad for a sesame seed.

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