Hoof, Pad and Flipper: A Closer Look At Wildlife That Run and Crawl

The National Wildlife Week theme of “wildlife that move us” is helping us look today at wild creatures that run, walk and crawl.


Let’s start with the animal that runs faster than any other.  Many people already know that the cheetah, which lives in Africa and Asia, can run like the wind.  These cats can go from a standstill to 60 miles per hour (mph) in just three seconds.  Their top speed is about 75 mph which makes them more than twice as fast as a lion (35 mph).  A cheetah’s body is completely designed for speed as you can easily see from this video.   But, in an odd twist of nature, cheetahs, unlike most cats, are terrible climbers.

The bird that flies the fastest is the spine-tailed swift of Siberia at over 100 mph.  But the bird that runs fastest is the ostrich which can hit 45 mph as you can tell from this video.   Ostriches are the largest of all birds and are totally flightless.  They often weigh over 300 pounds and must rely on their legs for safety and getting around.   When threatened, those legs can deliver a powerful, even deadly, kick to a predator.


Giraffes win the prize for being the “leggiest” of all creatures. Their legs can grow to well over six feet long.   They need good legs because adult males can grow to be close to 20 feet tall and weigh over 4,000 pounds.  The giraffe is a cousin of deer and cattle but looks quite different.  It closest relative is the okapi.

The African elephant has the largest legs (measured in bulk) of all land creatures.  They have to because they can grow to 15,000 pounds. The animal with the most legs goes is the millipede (750 legs) and the creature with the smallest legs, as far as anyone can figure, is the fairyfly.

Biggest Bones

If one were to ask what animal has the largest leg bones or what is the largest animal with leg bones the answer would be the same and it might, for many people, be a surprise.  It is the blue whale! Whales once lived on land but they liked swimming so much they returned to the sea.  Their front legs evolved into flippers but their back legs “un-evolved” and grew smaller and retreated into their bodies to make them more streamlined.  But, for a 100 foot long blue whale, even these residual hind leg bones are huge.

Slowest Walker

The tortoise is considered by most experts to be the slowest walking animal.  A good-to-go giant tortoise will hit a cruising speed of about 1/6 mph.  It is probably a good thing that they often live to be more than 100 years old.

Those same experts would tell you that the slowest moving mammal is probably the three-toed sloth which has difficulty walking  but moves just as slowly as a tortoise only through the branches of a tree.  If you are looking for the slowest creature using a pseudopod (false foot) it is probably the garden snail which chugs along at about 1/30 mph putting the “go” in escargot.

Largest Crawler

One might say the giant tortoise moves at a crawl, but it is pretty likely that the coconut crab is the largest of the slow crawling arthropods.   Coconut crabs, really oversized hermit crabs, can grow to nine pounds and measure three feet across.  They live on indo-pacific islands and do most of their crawling at night.

The hands-down largest crawler in the world, however, is the saltwater crocodile of Australia which can grow to 20 feet and over 2,500 pounds.   These crocs can also hit some amazing speeds from the “crawl” position.  The largest insect crawler is the goliath beetle which weighs about ¼ of a pound.

The Largest Crawl

Each year, the red crabs of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, leave their forest homes and engage in a massive migration to the Island’s shoreline in order to mate and propagate.  This video can give you a sense of what it is like when 120 million crabs march to the sea all at once.

The Loneliest Walker

Most wildlife scientists would vote for the wolverine as the greatest and widest-ranging walking soloist of all time.  Wolverines walk hundreds of miles and are seldom, if ever, seen.   Those same scientists might offer an explanation that wolverines are just too bad-tempered to spend time with others.  That is probably a little harsh but this video shows how a wolverine chases down a spry hare.

Longest Commute

Among land animals, the caribou is the long-distance champion.  Caribou herds in North America can travel over 3,000 miles round trip each year, without the benefit of “frequent walker” miles.

Weirdest Walkers

There are a number of fish that like to walk on land or in the water.  The mud skipper is probably the best adapted fish for this dual role.  It can stay out of the water for days and moves easily on its foot-like flippers.

The walking catfish by contrast, can leave the water but it is wriggling more than walking as you can see from this video.

One of the most charming of the walking fish is the Mexican walking fish as you can see from the photo on the right or the newly discovered pink hand fish.  And, there is this video of a newly discovered bottom-walking fish that took the experts by surprise.

Humans who have trouble getting around will often use a cane or walking stick, but in the animal world there is an insect known as a walking stick that this video looks at up close and personally.

Coolest Looking Walkers

At the National Wildlife Federation, we are committed to addressing the threat of global climate change and to making all the world’s walking animals a little safer and little better off.  So let’s wrap up with a video of crew of emperor penguins walking off into the distance – happily ever after.

For a great poster on wildlife that walk or to learn more, visit:  National Wildlife Week