The cheetah has long fascinated biologists and animal lovers, not only because of its unmatched speed (58 miles per hour / 93 km per hour), but also because of its unmatched ability to maintain balance and focus in stride. Imagine running at high speed over rough terrain while keeping your eyes on an obscured moving target? Scientists at the American Natural History Museum have discovered that it’s all about its ear.
The anatomy of a cheetah’s inner ear is different from any other felid. The vestibular system that provides coordination and balance is larger in the cheetah and its canals are longer. It means the cheetah’s ears are highly sensitive to the slightest head movement, giving it the ability to rapidly adjust and therefore maintain balance and a very steady gaze even while running at top speed. The study further explains that this characteristic only recently evolved (possibly as recent as 126,000 years ago) most likely in response to competition with slower and larger predators.
For more information see:
Grohé C., Lee B., Flynn J.J. (2018). Recent inner ear specialization for high-speed hunting in cheetahs. Scientific Reports, 8 (1). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-20198-3