Comparative physiology of animals in athletic performances — the Olympics of the animal kingdom? Comparative physiology of animals in athletic performances — the Olympics of the animal kingdom? – SOMETHING ABOUT SCIENCE

Comparative physiology of animals in athletic performances — the Olympics of the animal kingdom?

With the start of September, lives for many of us may be hectic – back to school, beginning of a new job, etc. Nevertheless, I hope you had a chance to enjoy a summer break before returning to busy schedule.

I have just returned from a trip to the Canadian Rockies, where I enjoyed encountering various wild animals (namely, squirrels, geese, bighorn sheep, elks, mule deer, black bear, and moose). These wildlife encounters reminded me of a review article on animal athletic performances that I had read few weeks back during London Olympics, so that I thought I might share it with you here.

My exciting encounter with a moose in Jasper, Alberta, Canada.

The comparisons of athletic abilities across different animals, I believe, can be best achieved on charts rather than writing them down in sentences, so here they are below. It should be noted that some of the numbers are only estimates; nonetheless, I think they can still provide a good guidance for comparison. (kph = kilometer per hour) (mph = miles per hour)

Seeing these extraordinary athletic records, I cannot stop admiring how the bodies of these “athletes” are well adapted for specialized performances. For instance, cheetah, a famous speed runner, has features well suited for sprinting: long streamlined body, flexible spine, running-spike claws, and long legs with most of the muscles located close to the body. These traits allow a cheetah to run 200 meters (656 feet) in just 6.9 seconds. Another example of an extraordinary physiology is that of emperor penguins. (I think many of you are familiar with them through the film March of the Penguins [2005].) Emperor penguins can lower their heart beat down to 6 beats per minute and drop their abdominal temperatures to 11°C (52°F) during their dive, so that their metabolism is slowed down, consuming less oxygen. In this way, they can sustain the dive deeper than 530 meters (580 yards) for over 15 minutes.

A cheetah sprinting. Photo credit: Malene Thyssen on Wikimedia Commons

The author of the review article, Dr. Craig Sharp, at Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University, London, also provides a tip on exercise. To maximize the running economy, human adults naturally break into a run at 7.2kph (4.5mph) when walking is more energy costly. Therefore, Dr. Sharp advises, “…brisk walking is a better exercise than slow jogging!”

Dr. Sharp concludes his review article stating that although the Olympic Games demonstrate that “…human beings are physically the most versatile single species…if we allowed the rest of the animal kingdom into the Games…we could not offer much competition!”

Thank you for reading the post. See you next week! 🙂

Animal athletes: a performance review

Lynn Kimlicka

I am a scientist-turned writer and editor, who loves to read and write (more than doing experiments). I have a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a specialization in structural biology. My interests range widely, from life sciences to pop culture and arts to music. I am bilingual in English and Japanese.

1 Response

  1. Mindy says:

    Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Many thanks

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