A Southern California mite has set a new record as world's fastest land animal and the little creature can run 20 times faster than a cheetah and the equivalent of a person running 2,092 km per hour, scientists say.
The mite far outpaces the Australian tiger beetle, the current record-holder for running speed as measured in body lengths per second.
By this measure, the mite runs 20 times faster than a cheetah and the equivalent of a person running 2,092 km per hour, researchers said.
The discovery is exciting not only because it sets a new world record, but also for what it unveils about the physiology of movement and the physical limitations of living structures, they said.
Although the mite Paratarsotomus macropalpis is no bigger than a sesame seed, it was recently recorded running at up to 322 body lengths per second, a measure of speed that reflects how quickly an animal moves relative to its body size.
The Australian tiger beetle, tops out at 171 body lengths per second. By comparison, a cheetah running at 97km per hour attains only about 16 body lengths per second.
"It's so cool to discover something that's faster than anything else, and just to imagine, as a human, going that fast compared to your body length is really amazing," said Samuel Rubin, a junior and physics major at Pitzer College who led much of the fieldwork to document the mite's movements.
"But beyond that, looking deeper into the physics of how they accomplish these speeds could help inspire revolutionary new designs for things like robots or biomimetic devices," said Rubin.
"When the values for mites are compared with data from other animals, they indicate that, if there is an upper limit, we haven't found it yet," said Rubin's adviser, Jonathan Wright, a professor of biology at Pomona College.
The mite is local to Southern California and is often found running along rocks or sidewalks.
Researchers used high-speed cameras to record the mites' sprints in the laboratory and in their natural environment.
They were also surprised to find the mites running on concrete up to 60 degrees Celsius, a temperature significantly higher than the upper lethal temperature of most animals.
Rubin presented the findings during the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in California.