I watched a hare the other day near my home, and I could not believe my eyes when it took off at an incredible pace across the fields. This led me to research what other mammals in North America had a similar speed.
The North American pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in North America, reaching speeds up to 96 km/h. The quarter-horse, elk, and mule deer are a few of the fastest mammals in North America.
When discussing the fastest land mammals in North America, it is good to remember that many more animals can break records with incredible speed. Below are just 10 of these land mammals that are incredibly fast.
The North American land mammals on this list can give some of the world’s fastest mammals a run. Even the infamous cheetah has some competition here. The Top 10 Fastest land mammals in North America come in all shapes and sizes.
While commonly misidentified as an antelope, the pronghorn is no relation. In reality, the pronghorn is more closely related to the giraffe and okapi family but is the last species.
They hold the only forked horns in the entire world, which they shed annually. Both male and female pronghorns have horns, but the males are much more significant.
They have excellent vision and circulatory and respiratory systems that all work together to help the pronghorn escape predators with lightning quickness. An adult male pronghorn can weigh between 88 and 140 lbs but certainly does not let its size hold it back.
This particular species has been Native to North America for a long time, and its speed can be attributed to the fact that cheetahs once roamed North America, and pronghorn was on the menu. While that is no longer the case, the pronghorn has maintained incredible speed. The cheetah can reach up to 71mph but can only hold that speed for maybe 700 yards.
While impressive, the pronghorn’s top speed is about 55mph, and can maintain roughly 30mph for almost 20 miles! Stamina is the real winner here.
The Quarter Horse is an American horse explicitly bred to be faster than a regular thoroughbred horse. Its name was adopted due to its ability to outrun other horses in short-distance races of a quarter mile or less.
The origin of the breed can be linked back to Colonial America. It is believed that Spanish Barb horses were acquired from the Chickasaws. These horses were then crossbred with the colonist’s English horses in the 1600s, and over time, the American Quarter Horse was created.
They were bred specifically for speed and racing. The term “Quarter” was branded due to the distance the horses could run at full speed. Some fantastic horses have been clocked at 55mph, but this speed can only be maintained for about a quarter-mile.
There are upwards of 1 million elk living in North America today. Although they try to avoid heavily wooded areas, they enjoy multiple habitats, including plains, mountain ranges, and even swamps.
Elk is loosely related to the North American deer family. However, they are easily identified by their overwhelming size. Some Elk grow antlers up to 4ft in length, which can have a large adult male standing 9ft tall!
Elk was forced into more remote places in North America after being killed off in large numbers. They now reside in Western North America in mountain-filled areas such as Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, where they can roam safely.
Approaching elk is not suggested, as they can become highly territorial and violent. Predators of this creature include the American Black Bear, wolf, coyote, bobcat, and cougar.
Although healthy-grown elk are rarely bothered by these animals because of their size and sheer aggressiveness, elk are fast and can reach up to speeds of 45mph. If they feel threatened, there is no outrunning this big brute.
Mule deer were given their name due to the shape of their ears, which appear large like those of a mule. They are most commonly active in the early morning and evening, around sunrise and sunset.
Large mule deer can weigh upwards of 200 lbs and are widely found in western North America. They are larger than their whitetail counterparts. The male deer grow antlers, which they shed each spring, during the summertime.
When frightened, the Mule Deer will do a stiff-legged jump known as “slotting,” where all four legs will hit the ground together. Their only predators include humans, coyotes, mountain lions, eagles, bobcats, bears, and wolves.
Bears and coyotes are known for their speed, so it’s not surprising that the Mule Deer is relatively quick. The grown Mule Deer can reach up to 45mph to escape predators. Their speed is their most significant protection. Most predators only prey on smaller, injured, or deceased mule deer.
A greyhound is a breed of dog explicitly bred for coursing games and dog racing. Greyhound racing is still legal in multiple states across America despite a recent uproar in protests accusing the races of being inhumane and cruel. Since the demonstrations in defense of the Greyhound’s freedom, the dog is becoming an ordinary family home pet.
A grown male can weigh between 65 and 70 lbs. They have long, slender faces and slim bodies, making them the perfect racing dog. This breed is one of the oldest breeds we know, as its existence dates back over 8,000 years.
Greyhound’s name’s origin is speculated to have come from the old English word “great hundred,” meaning dog hunter, as they were commonly used in hunting games. Greyhounds are the fastest dog breed worldwide, reaching a fantastic 45mph.
The Greyhound has a tiny waist, flexible spine, long legs, and large muscles that all propel this pup to its full speed in only six strides.
Coyotes are commonly found in the United States, Mexico, and Canada and are members of the Canidae family. They have yellowish eyes, lean bodies, long snouts, and bushy fur tails.
Their habitat includes plains, forested areas, and deserts. Coyotes are commonly known for their howling. They are nocturnal creatures and use this method to communicate their location to their group and family.
As the human population takes over their habitats, coyotes adapt and move closer to city areas to survive and find food sources.
Their common predators include wolves, bears, and mountain lions. Eagles and Dogs have also been known to attack coyote pups in an opportunistic environment. The coyote is much smaller than its close relative, the gray wolf, but its small size may play a massive part in its position as one of the fastest land mammals in North America.
We all know the old cartoon of Wiley Coyote never being able to catch his quick and quirky counterpart, the Roadrunner. In reality, a roadrunner can only reach speeds of up to 20mph. On the other hand, our fearless coyote has been clocked at a whopping 43mph! That bird never stood a chance, acme products or not.
The gray fox is the only dog family member that can climb trees. They do this for multiple reasons, including finding prey or a comfy and safe place to sleep for the night. Trees also make for great hiding places when being hunted by predators.
Their sharp, hooked claws make climbing trees a breeze. Great Horned Owls, Bobcats, coyotes, and golden eagles are their main predators. They are a small species that prey mainly on little mice and rabbits but also eat insects, birds, and vegetation, including berries, corn, grass, and apples.
They typically weigh between 7 and 15 pounds and have small cone-shaped snouts and fluffy flowing tails. They are commonly mistaken for red foxes due to the amber color of their coat. The gray fox can live as long as 16 years in the wild, increasing to 20 years if held captive.
Gray foxes play an essential role in the ecosystem by keeping rodents and insect levels down. They prefer to live in ridges and rocky canyons but can also make their way to wooded areas, grasslands, and deserts.
The gray fox is impressive in that, despite being so small, this little guy made it to the list of one of the fastest mammals in North America. At speeds around 42mph, whatever predator it may have will walk away hungry. That’s only one mph below the ostrich and coyote! It’s safe to say that this little guy packs a considerable punch.
There are approximately 15 different species of hare in North America. They are larger and faster than their close cousins, the rabbit. Hares also typically have longer ears and feet than regular rabbits. They can usually be spotted with black markings throughout their fur.
While rabbits tend to make burrows for their young, hares opt to have their children out in the open. Also, while many enjoy keeping rabbits as pets, hares are not easily domesticated animals, and it’s best to leave them in their natural habitat.
They usually live alone, but it is not uncommon to pair up together. While hares can be found in North America, they are also native to Eurasia, Africa, and Japan. They enjoy grazing through meadows, fields, and open clearings. They live from about 4 to 8 years on average, but they can survive as long as 12 years in the wild. Hares can weigh anywhere from 3 to 11 lbs.
While they look like rabbits, their lifestyles tend to be quite the opposite. Hares are nocturnal creatures and do most of their daily activities, such as feeding and traveling at night. They use daylight to hide from predators and to sleep.
Predators of the Hare include the lynx, coyotes, and foxes. Hares are agile and fast because so are their enemies! Even some birds of prey find the hare to be a tasty treat. Being quick is one of the only ways to survive as a hare. The average rabbit only runs about two mph, while a hare can more than exceed that number at an unheard-of 40mph.
Wolves have built-in stamina that allows them to travel up to 40 miles daily. They can move quickly in short bursts while hunting their smaller, faster prey, such as the hare, and larger prey, like the whitetail deer or mountain goats. While not on the hunt, the wolf will generally maintain a speed of about five mph.
A wolf pack is a well-thought-out and neatly orchestrated team of about 5 to 7 wolves, but there can be as many as 15 wolves traveling together.
Wolf Communication is essential among the pack members to ensure the safety of all members, including the young, old, wounded, and sickly. They also use this communication to take down larger prey, such as elk or moose, that one wolf may not be capable of doing alone.
Wolves are intensely loyal to their pack. They will do anything for one another, sacrificing themselves to protect others. Wolves are known for their intense howling. They use these howls to communicate with other wolves for several reasons. A wolf will use its roar to alert the pack of its location. The roar can ward off any other wolf packs lingering in the area.
There is always an alpha male in a wolf’s pack who leads his pack throughout their journey, as wolves never settle in one place for long. While it is safe to say that the Alpha may pick out what animal to prey on when it is time to eat, he may not be the one to get the kill. He chooses the game, and his followers fall in line and instinctually know how to handle the situation.
While a wolf can only sprint for short distances, it can reach speeds between 31 and 37mph. Imagine being a deer with 15 hungry wolves coming at you at 37 miles per hour. Consider yourself breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Grizzly bears are also known as North American brown bears. Female grizzlies can weigh between 290 and 400 lbs. Males, on the other hand, can weigh between 400 and 790 lbs. Some newborn Grizzly cubs may weigh as little as 1lb.
Brown Bears are located in Asia, Europe, and North America. In North America, approximately 55,000 Grizzly bears are roaming around. A large population resides in Alaska, with only about 1,500 bears living in the lower 48 states.
These bears hibernate for 5 to 7 months yearly if the weather stays cool. The California Grizzly does not hibernate because of the warm climate. Grizzlies must construct a den of sorts to prepare for hibernation, and they must eat a massive amount of food because they do not eat during hibernation. One of the more surprising facts about hibernation is that grizzly bears do not urinate or defecate while in this state.
Grizzly Bears tend to stay solitary unless a female grizzly has cubs. A female Grizzly will wait 3 or 4 years between having litters of cubs.
Grizzly bears are omnivores and enjoy eating grasses, berries, roots, seeds, fungi, fish, elk, deer, insects, and even the occasional dead animal.
The American Brown Bear doesn’t have any natural predators. A mountain lion may stand a chance, but even that is a stretch. Their cousins across the seas have lions, tigers, and giraffes to worry about, but the North American Grizzly Bear is not one to be bothered.
If you saw a Grizzly Bear roaming in the forest near your campsite, your first reaction would be to turn around and run as fast as possible, but this would not end well for you. A North American Grizzly bear can run up to 35 miles per hour. That earns the Grizzly its spot on the Top 10 list of fast land mammals. There are not many animals that can outrun this brute.
There are some outstanding books on Amazon about the fastest animals globally. You can find them here.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.