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Paratarsotomus macropalpis: Animal's incredible speed is almost unbelievable

Paratarsotomus macropalpis has received the title of fastest land animal in the world and the speed it achieves is equivalent to a human running about 2,100 km per hour, which is nearly twice the speed of sound. A study published with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology on Sunday found that Paratarsotomus macropalpis, a mite the size of a sesame seed and native to southern California, is the fastest living organism on Earth.

Sci-News reported that a team of researchers measured the speed of this animal for body lengths per second, a measure that reflects the speed in which an animal moves relative to its body size. This mite called Paratarsotomus macropalpis can run up to 322 of these lengths per second, much more than the Australian tiger beetle, the previous record-holder, which reaches a maximum of 171 body lengths per second. This is also well above the cheetah, which manages 16 body lengths per second at a top speed of 70 miles per hour.

“We were looking at the overarching question of whether there is an upper limit to the relative speed or stride frequency that can be achieved,” said Jonathan Wright, Ph.D., professor of biology at the University of Pomona. “When the values for mites are compared with data from other animals, they indicate that, if there is an upper limit, we haven't found it yet," Wright explained.

Samuel Rubin, who documented the abilities of these mites, says the research may help to understand the movement of animals and help to develop new technologies. The team was able to capture the astonishing speed of this mite thanks to high frame-rate video cameras. Something that also caught the attention of specialists was that, incredibly, Paratarsotomus macropalpis is able to run on concrete at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that would kill most organisms.

Rubin is a junior and physics major at Pitzer College who spent a summer chasing these mites and he says the discovery is exciting, not only because it sets a new world record, but also for what it reveals about the physiology of movement and physical limitations of animals. “It’s so cool to discover something that’s faster than anything else, and just to imagine, as a human, going that fast compared to your body length is really amazing,” Rubin expressed.