This Obscure Species of Mite Is the Fastest Animal on Earth

The mite just defeated the previous record-holder, the Australian tiger beetle

Not the world's fastest mite, but a related species from the same Family. Photo: S.E. Thorpe

In the animal kingdom, people tend to think of the cheetah as the fastest creature around. But, when speed is measured relative to body size, there are several faster creatures—all of them arthropods. And now a new winner has emerged. A mite from Southern California just left the previous speediest animal world-record holders in the dust.

Researchers clocked Paratarsotomus macropalpisa tiny arthropod about the size of a sesame seed—covering distances of up to 322 times its body length per second, the Christian Sciene Monitor reports. Adjusted relative to the mite and its competitors' sizes, that's much faster than the previous record holder, the Australian tiger beetle, which can run up to 122 body lengths per second. 

Whether the mite will hold the record for long could come down either to chance or to physics and biology. It could be that faster creatures exist and simply have not been studied in enough detail to have their speed clocked. On the other hand, researchers think that there must be some absolute limit on the speed an organism—even the fastest on the planet—can achieve. But what that upper limit is, the Christian Science Monitor says, physicists still do not know. 

As for humans, our fastest runner, Usain Bolt, clocks in at just six body lengths per second, or about 28 miles per hour. If he were to run as fast as the mite, Discovery News points out, he would be sprinting at 1,300 miles per hour. Clearly, we won't be pushing the upper limits of physics any time soon.