Chapter 7 Cheetah specialization: Physiology and Morphology

Julie Meachen*, Anne Schmidt-Küntzel, Holly Haefele, Gerhard Steenkamp, James M. Robinson, Marcela Randau, Natasha McGowan, David M. Scantlebury, Nikki Marks, Aaron Maule, Laurie Marker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Built for speed, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is adapted for a running lifestyle. This chapter covers musculoskeletal and thermoregulatory adaptations that contribute in making it the world's fastest land mammal. It also covers physiological and morphological traits relating to characteristics of the cheetah's physical appearance, vocalizations, visual systems, and organ systems. The cheetah's spotted coat confers camouflage protection. The cheetah has a small head with reduced tooth-size, long limbs with semiretractile claws, and a flexible spine that increases the cheetah's stride. Unable to roar, cheetahs purr, sharing osteological anatomy with domestic cats. Cheetahs also have a visual system that is distinct from other cats, with more short wavelength cones and visual acuity based on the horizon. Physiological adaptations are seen in skeletal musculature, and the fact that cheetahs dissipate heat quickly during and after a hunt through specialized and enlarged nasal passages. These combined characteristics make the cheetah a unique felid species.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCheetahs
Subtitle of host publicationBiology and Conservation: Biodiversity of the World: Conservation from Genes to Landscapes
EditorsAnne Schmidt-Kunzel
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780128041208
ISBN (Print)9780128040881
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2018


  • Limb bones
  • Morphology
  • Muscles
  • Organ systems
  • Physiology
  • Skull
  • Thermoregulation
  • Visual system
  • Vocalization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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