Wildlife Take the Gold for True Olympic Feats

A spittlebug can jump 115 times higher than its own body length. (Photo by USDA Cooperative Extension)
Olympic fever has taken hold of the world—we’re all cheering for our favorite athletes. While human Olympians have amazing physical abilities, for wild animals strength, speed, agility and endurance mean more than just medals, they are a matter of survival. Here are some animal Olympians with gold medal-worthy abilities.

High-Jump Stars

The champion of the animal world may be the spittle bug. This insect is only as long as a pencil eraser but it can jump 115 times higher than its body length. That would be like a person leaping over a 70-story skyscraper.

Going the Distance

Chinook salmon may travel more than 2,000 miles as they swim inland from the sea and head up the rivers and streams where they hatched. That’s about the distance between Detroit, Michigan and Los Angeles, California. Then there is the Arctic tern, a bird with the longest migration, traveling from the Arctic all the way to the Antarctic, and back again, each year. They literally migrate from one end of the planet to the other, 50,000 miles in total!

From Petit Manan Island, Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Kirk Rogers, U.S. FWS.
The sooty shearwater would take the silver medal with a migrating journey beginning in New Zealand and ending in the North Pacific, 40,000 miles annually. The Pacific gray whale can only hope for the bronze. It’s the longest migrating mammal, traveling a round-trip journey of 12,000 miles.

Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus), from Avila, Port San Luis, California. Photo by Mike Baird.

Broad-Jump Winners

What animal takes the prize among the best leapers? Most scientists agree: it’s the tiny southern cricket frog, a tree frog living on the ground in many southeastern states. It’s only about an inch long but can jump 62 times its body length.

Most agree the inch-long sputhern cricket frog is the best leaper. It can jump 62 times its body length. Photo by Greg Schecter.

Diving Specialists

The beaked whale, actually more closely related to dolphins than whales, can dive deeper in the ocean than any other animal. Heading down to depths of 6,230 feet—that’s over a mile deep—it can then hold its breath for 85 minutes before resurfacing for air.

Beaked whales can dive more than a mile-deep, and stay submerged for more than an hour. Photo by NOAA.

Jungle Gymnasts

The African Bush Baby is a tiny primate and lives in the treetops. It has incredible leaping abilities. As it prowls the tropical forests at night looking for fruits and insects to devour, bush babies can make leaps of 20 feet or more, which is many times their own body length. They are great jumpers and acrobats too as they move in complete silence and can see in almost absolute darkness with the help of their huge eyes.

Run, Run, Fast as You Can

The fastest animal on earth is the cheetah, which can run at speeds over 60 miles per hour. (Photo by Jan Steiner)
The fastest mammal on the planet is the cheetah which can run as speeds over 60 miles per hour. But even that doesn’t always ensure that this big cat gets a meal. The gazelles and other small antelope that are the cheetah’s main prey are not as fast as the cat, but they have greater endurance and agility in a high-speed chase and often escape the spotted speedster. The bronze medal would go to the pronghorn, the planet’s second-fastest mammal with a top speed that almost matches the cheetah’s. Both land-cruisers are slower than our gold-medal winner, the peregrine falcon, which reaches speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour when diving after prey.

Pronghorn antelope on the move along the migration route. Photo by Mark Gocke, USDA.

Fast Swimmers

The killer whale or orca is a speedy swimmer–it can swim up to 30 or 40 miles an hour. (Photo by Kat Kellner)
The killer whale or orca can swim up to 30 or 40 miles an hour. But it usually cruises at much slower speeds, between 2 to 6 miles an hour. The gentoo penguin can’t fly in the air like other birds, but it can fly through the water. It has a perfect shape for swimming and wings that work like paddles. It can reach a speed of 15 miles an hour, three times faster than humans.

Kids can be Olympians right in their own backyards. Check out some fun Olympic-themed games designed to get kids outside and connecting with nature.