Temporal range: Late Pliocene to Recent
Brookes, 1828 (= Felis jubata, Schreber, 1775) by monotypy
|The range of the cheetah|
The name "cheetah" may come from a Hindi word meaning "spotted one" or from the Sanskrit word "chitraka". An adult has yellow or tan fur with solid black round or oval spots measuring .75 to 1.5 inches (1.9 to 3.8 centimeters) in diameter. The spots cover nearly the whole body. Only the white throat and abdomen are not spotted. The tail ends with 4–6 black rings and a bushy, white tuft. The head is small with eyes set high and a black "tear mark" running from the inner aspect of each eye down to the mouth. The teeth are small. An adult cheetah weighs 80–140 pounds (36–64 kilograms), is about 32 inches (81 centimeters) tall at the shoulder and 48–56 inches (121–142 centimeters) long with another 28–32 inches (70–81 centimeters) in tail. Cheetahs are sometimes mistaken for leopards. However, the difference is that leopards are much heavier animals with rosette shaped spots and no tear marks.
There are also cheetahs with a different fur, called a King Cheetah. These cheetahs have bigger spots and also stripes on their fur, because of a mutation.
Cheetahs are active during the day, and hunt in the early morning or late evening. They hunt and eat mostly gazelles and other animals that are not very heavy or strong. They also eat small mammals and birds if they are very hungry.
When the cheetah hunts, it slowly and secretly moves toward its prey. When it is close to the prey (about 10–30 meters), it runs after it very quickly. When the prey falls or is caught by the cheetah, then he bites the throat of the prey, so that it dies because it cannot breathe. The cheetah cannot defend itself against lions or hyenas who would take the cheetah's prey away.
After a pregnancy of about 94 days the female gives birth to usually 1–3 babies. Young cheetahs become mature at about 2 years of age. Cheetahs can live to be 20 years old in captivity.
The cheetah has unusually low genetic variability and a very low sperm count. Their sperms also suffer from deformed flagellae, and so their movement is damaged. Apparently, cheetahs went through a great reduction in numbers during the last ice age. Inbreeding after the event further reduced the variation (Evolution#Genetic drift).
- Cat Specialist Group (2002). Acinonyx jubatus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 2006-05-11. Database entry includes justification for why this species is vulnerable.
- "Cheetah Appearance". cheetahspot.com. http://www.cheetahspot.com/appearance.php. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
- O'Brien S. Wildt D. & Bush M. 1986. The Cheetah in Genetic Peril. Scientific American 254: 68–76. Skin grafts between non-related cheetahs illustrate this point: there is no rejection of the donor skin.
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