Agile animals are one step ahead in their fight for survival in the brutal, cold life of the jungle. These animals not only run fast but can also decelerate and quickly and easily change directions.
The animals include predators and prey, with some swimming through the water, others running on land, and some flying through the air.
This article includes animals in all these three mediums and explains their adaptation to help you expand your animal knowledge.
World’s 15 Most Agile Animals
Bats, the only flying mammals, represent their mammal colleagues well up there in the air.
Their wings resemble a human hand but are more modified. For perspective, picture your hand with a large, thin, and stretched skin membrane between your fingers. The flexible membrane extends to movable joints in bats’ wings to make the creatures remarkably agile flyers. What’s more, the membrane is so sensitive that bats can sense when an object, say an insect, whacks on them!
That unique adaptation allows bats to maneuver through the air, doing all sorts of incredible stuff, including swoops and dives. They also fly fast, with some species attaining speeds of about 100 miles per hour (faster than cheetahs), according to a new study by Bats International Conservation.
Bats’ agility explains why the mammals have few predators – only owls, snakes, and hawks prey on bats.
Cheetahs take the crown for the fastest land animal, generally. But surprisingly, that’s not why the speed machines are effective hunters – although it’s part of it.
The apex predators are pro hunters thanks to their agility. According to a new study, cheetahs rely on their ability to accelerate rapidly and make tight turns to catch their prey. As per the same study, cheetahs increase their speed by 10.8 km/h thanks to their agility. That’s why cheetahs boast of a 58% hunting success rate, according to Discover Wildlife.
The animals have long and slim bodies as an adaptation for their agility. They also have lightweight skeletons, and highly flexible spines, while their legs have spring-like ligaments for endurance. But despite their agility, they can only sprint for short distances.
3. Peregrine falcons
Peregrine falcons are cosmopolitan birds of prey and the fastest diving birds in the world.
Like cheetahs, these falcons are apex predators that use a formidable combination of speed, strategy, and agility to track and catch their prey.
Their hunting is fascinating (until you’re the prey) as the birds first soar immensely high attitudes, say several hundred meters above their mark.
Then, in a flash, the predators make high-speed dives (one was recorded diving at 380 km/h according to the Guinness World Records), forcefully flapping their wings before folding them to decrease drag. Upon nearing the unsuspecting, poor prey, the falcons can either catch it with their sharp talons or knock it with a massive blow.
This hunting style generates high aerodynamic forces allowing the falcons to make precise maneuvers. If you watch the scene, the birds look like an object dropped off from high in the sky!
As an adaptation for their out-of-world agility, peregrine falcons have more streamlined bodies than hawks, while their wings are long and pointed. Their success rate is not clearly defined and can range from 7 to 83%.
Flightless ostriches are the largest of all birds in the world.
But don’t estimate their massive weight or a lack of fighting ability as birds; ostriches are very agile, and if fact, they largely depend on it for their survival.
The birds have muscular legs and powerful two-toed feet. And according to a study by U.S. and Australian researchers, the massive birds can pack double the elastic energy in their tendons than humans can per step.
That significantly reduces the effort required by the muscles allowing ostriches to run twice as fast as humans while consuming half the energy! Effectiveness. That’s why a cheetah, while also agile, cannot outpace an ostrich, which can reach speeds of 70 km/h over long distances.
Ostriches combine their incredible speed and agility to find fresh pastures and escape the slow, hungry hyenas.
Also called broadbills, swordfish are large migratory fish and voracious predators known for their distinctive long, flat, and sword-like bills.
Swordfish dominate their habitats as voracious pursuit hunters, partly due to the several adaptations that make them agile. Their bodies have evolved to make swordfish content for a spot among the fastest fish in the world.
First, swordfish are scaleless to reduce drag while swimming. And second, the fish have rough rostrums to generate micro-turbulence in water, allowing them to reduce the high energy needed to push through the water.
With their agility, the fearsome sea creatures effortlessly outmaneuver prey which is why they’re regarded as opportunistic predators.
6. Golden Eagles
Golden eagles are magnificent predatory birds native to the Northern hemisphere.
These raptors have a similar style of hunting to the peregrine falcons, as they combine their speed and agility. They hunt from above, performing aerial swooping gymnastics thanks to their aerodynamic bodies and extra-large wings, which can reach about five feet across.
The tail is also a critical ingredient for agility, as it prevents the bird from being dragged by as it dives. That’s why golden eagles can clock speeds of 200m/h when diving.
Due to their agility, these predators can kill prey as large as domestic cattle and cranes, although most of their victims are ground squirrels, hares, and prairie dogs.
Gazelles are species of antelopes that grace open deserts, savannas, and grasslands of Africa. They’re also found in small numbers in Asia.
Gazelles are known for their speed and quickness, which is, in fact, a way of their lives. The swift animals can burst at 100km/h and sustain about 50 km/h. What’s more, gazelles are known to make quick zig-zag turns to confuse the relentless predators. And as an adaptation, their bodies are slim and athletic.
They use their agility to escape the claws and jaws of lions and cheetahs. Most of them live for around eight years – quite a feat considering their habitats are occupied by similar agile predators.
Sailfish are one of the most identifiable fish, thanks to their enormous dorsal fins that stretch the entire lengths of their backs.
The sea creatures are agile and the fastest fish to ever grace earth’s waters. The fish bullets through ocean waters at incredible speeds and can reach about 112km/h! That’s why sailfishes can catch small fish in a blink of an eye.
And because of their speed and ability to make quick turns, Sailfishes have few predators and are only caught by big predatory fish, including sharks and orcas.
Fishers like sailfishes for their prized tasty steaks, while the fish are popular game fish thanks to their speed and agility. However, it does not only take time to catch one, but it is also hard as sailfish will jump, leap, and dive repeatedly and vigorously, fighting for their survival.
Pronghorns are gazelle-looking herbivores that rival cheetahs and peregrine falcons for the title of the fastest animal in the world.
Thanks to their incredible speed, no land mammal can keep pace with the pronghorns because they can run sprint over 50mph. And because of their agility, the herbivores can maintain such top sprints than quick predators, including cheetahs.
Putting it into context, the speed machines can sprint for 30m/h for four miles, 40m/h for one mile, and 55m/h for half a mile! That’s why pronghorns live for about ten years in the brutal wild.
To achieve such feats, pronghorns have huge windpipes to allow large amounts of air to propel them. They also have large lungs to accommodate the excess air, while their bone structures are incredibly light. Furthermore, their long hooves boast pointed and cushioned toes that act as shock absorbers when the animals are on the run.
10. Gray Foxes
Gray foxes are small dog-like omnivorous mammals with characteristic elongated muzzles, long legs, and bushy tails.
As swift as the wind, foxes are one of the fastest animals, especially on short distances, and can race for 42mph. They’re also agile, and effortlessly jump and leap as far as 17 feet from the ground to catch small prey such as rabbits and mice.
And unlike other canines, gray foxes are agile climbers. They use this unique ability to climb over fences and roofs and seamlessly move from one branch to another while foraging for eggs and small birds.
Furthermore, the foxes’ unusual ability to see the earth’s magnetic field allows the animals to pounce on unsuspecting prey.
11. Blue Wildebeests
Also known as the common wildebeests or gnu, blue wildebeests are large, heavily built antelopes that inhabit open savannas in Sub-Saharan African countries.
The awkward appearances of the blue wildebeests don’t stop them from being agile. In fact, they can run over 80km/h to escape predators. Considering most predators, particularly the cheetahs, can match that speed, the agility of these wildebeests might not be life-saving, but it’s undeniable it’s part of it. The animals can live for 20 years in the world.
The agility of blue wildebeests, ironically, lies in their awkward bodies. The upper torso and the neck host majority of the animal’s weight and have spindly, long legs for support. The shoulders are high, and the backs slope down to the hindquarters to configure a body shape that locomotive specialists attribute to the animals’ agility.
Marlins are enormous fish that look like a mix of swordfish and sailfish due to their long pointed bills and large dorsal fins that run their entire bodies.
Like their cousins, you can easily say the marlins are built for speed and agility by looking at their bodies, from the erected dorsal fins to needle-like snouts. And indeed, the massive sea creatures are agile swimmers, despite their size, and can reach speeds of about 100km/h. Their lean bodies are streamlined, allowing them to pull off some fascinating acrobatics.
Because of their agility, marlins are popular game fish – but dangerous to catch like their cousins.
Tigers are the largest living cats and are easily identifiable with their dark vertical stripes on orange bodies and white bellies.
Solitary animals, these cats are apex predators that rely on agility (despite their size) and strength to ambush and take down prey. Unlike most apex predators that chase their prey, tigers play the patience game.
After spotting a prospect, they then move with the stealth of a cat, waiting for the opportune moment, and can leap as high as 32 feet in a single bound to pounce on their prey.
However, tigers have one of the lowest hunting success rates, at around 10%. But that’s understandable, considering the tigers never run after their prey and can easily be seen by most of the animals they target.
Leopards are one of the animals you can easily mistake for cheetahs. But if you’re keen, leopards have irregular rose-shaped spots on their bodies, unlike cheetahs, whose are black.
Leopards combine the characteristics of big cats with those of small cats to become stealthy and agile predators. They’ve super muscled and athletic bodies, like big cats, and can effortlessly climb and descend trees headfirst, like small cats.
That’s why the creative cats are at ease and agile on land as they’re on trees.
And while their maximum speed of about 60km/h is short of most prey, leopards have incredible acceleration and reach top speeds in only about three strides. Plus, they can leap six meters and jump three meters into the air!
They can leap forward six meters and jump three meters into the air!
15. Margay cats
Well, leopards can have some characteristics of small cats, but they can’t beat their colleagues in their own game! That’s particularly true when you take the example of margay cats.
These medium-sized cats are arguably the most talented, boasting an impressive arsenal of adaptations for their agility. The hind legs of margays can rotate 180 degrees, making the margays the only cats to descend head first on a vertical tree.
They also have long tails to keep balance when moving from branch to branch. Furthermore, they have large, powerful paws that can hold barks and the most narrow branches, allowing the cats to maneuver easily on tree tops.
If that’s not amazing yet, according to the World Land Trust, margay cats in captivity are reported to sprint on cloth lines, jump horizontally and vertically, and hang by their hind feet to work on stuff with their fore paws!
A lot of animals rely on their agility for survival. The predators use it to chase down prey, who likewise depend on the same to escape.
And no matter which side you support, the animals present a fascinating encounter to watch.
But who uses their agility more impressively? Margay cats are the animals to beat.