The cheetah is, famously, the fastest land animal; it can run up to 65 miles per hour. During these sprints, its muscles are straining hard, but its head remains completely still so the cheetah doesn’t lose balance. New research, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests this is because the cheetah’s inner ear (the part inside, which we don’t see) is unique among large cats.
Researchers used high-resolution imaging to look at the skulls of 21 animals, including seven modern cheetahs, other large cats, and a closely related cheetah that is now extinct. Based on the scans, the scientists created 3D images of the inner ears, and found that the cheetah ear has a bigger volume than those of other cats. Two of its three inner-ear canals are also longer. This makes it more sensitive and helps the cheetah keep its head still.