When it comes to similar species or close relatives, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) stands alone. Their physical properties combined with their behavior set these medium-sized cats apart. A few other cats have similar coats, while animals with similar bodies include domestic sight-hounds. Many of their physical characteristics lend to their sprinting ability.
Nearly everything about the cheetah's physical makeup is designed for speed. They have long, slender bodies and long legs that act as springs; their smaller canine teeth increase the size of the nasal passages for more air during high-speed chases; their claws don't fully retract which gives them better traction; their enlarged organs help distribute oxygen during running; and their long tail provides balance when the cat needs to make quick turns. These animals are one of a kind, making them easy to distinguish from other types of predators. Many of these features have been bred into domestic dogs such as greyhounds and Russian wolfhounds.
Although it seems logical to lump the cheetah in with other big cats such as lions and tigers, the cheetah is actually part of the subfamily Felinae, or the small cats. Lions, tigers and leopards are species in the subfamily Pantherinae, the roaring cats. The cheetah is the only member of the genus Acinonyx, but it's speculated that it is most closely related to the puma.
The cheetah has a primarily yellow or fawn body with small, round black spots scattered over its coat. Many wild cats have similar coat patterns. Geoffroy's cat, for instance, has a ringed tail and dark-brown or black spots over its body. Leopards, ocelots, jaguars and others also have spotted coats, although the cheetah's spots are unique in shape.
The cheetah will use its speed to chase animals from about 100 meters away. Like many other predatory animals, the cheetah will stalk its prey until it's close enough for a successful chase—although they don't stalk their prey as closely as other large cats. In many cases the cheetah will knock its prey to the ground using its front paws instead of tackling its prey with claws like many other cats. They do, however, strangle their prey with their jaws like other large cats.
With a professional background in gardening, landscapes, pests and natural ecosystems, Jasey Kelly has been sharing her knowledge through writing since 2009 and has served as an expert writer in these fields. Kelly's background also includes childcare, and animal rescue and care.