A couple of days ago, I posted a question for wildlife enthusiasts among the readership: “Pronghorn Antelope can run 55-60 mph over open country, and they can sustain that speed for several minutes. That means they can run much, much faster than any of their North American predators (wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, etc.). Why would they need to run this fast?”
Below is a really good clip of running Pronghorn Antelope from the BBC archive. (Click on the “back” arrow to get back to this post.) Running full out, the animal extends its back fully as all four feet leave the ground and then flexes its back as the forelegs touch the ground for the next stride, and the hindlegs bunch under it to give it the next powerful thrust forward.
One reader suggested their speed was a means to put distance between the Pronghorns and their predators in the open country, which is certainly true, but not the primary reason that Pronghorn are such speedy runners.
Predators today of pronghorn antelope include mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and golden eagles which may take newborn or young antelope. Here’s a look at their predators’ speed stats.
|Pronghorn Predator||Maximum speed|
|Mountain Lion||40-50 mph (may be overestimated)|
None of today’s native North American predators can come close to a sprinting Pronghorn on the open plain; their only chance of success would be an ambush or boxing the animal into a closed canyon. It’s more likely that these predators attack just the very young, very old, or very feeble in the Pronghorn herd.
So why does the pronghorn run so fast, second only to the fastest mammal in the world today, the cheetah?
The answer lies in what/who used to chase them 8-10,000 years ago, when the North American megafauna looked very much different than it does today (to read what I wrote about this topic earlier; please click here).
Like cheetahs, Pronghorn have elastic spines that help elongate their stride, large lungs and hearts to facilitate oxygen extraction and delivery to their working muscles, and a unique ability to make quick changes in directions, by as much as 90 degrees in a single leap. To accomplish the latter, cheetahs whip their tails around like a rudder in the air; I’m not sure how Pronghorn do it. What marvels of evolution!