In a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Feb. 2, researchers reported of a special organ in the cheetah's body that influences the hunting prowess of the animal.
Camille Grohé, from the American Museum of Natural History, and colleagues looked into the extraordinary sensory abilities of the world's fastest land animal by studying its inner ear.
The inner ear is composed of sensory organs for hearing and balance. The semicircular canals in the inner ear are part of the body's' balance system, which allows most vertebrates to adapt their head posture during movement
Inner Ear Of Modern-Day Cheetahs Different From Other Felids
After scanning the skulls of 21 felid specimens, which include modern and extinct cheetahs, the researchers were able to create detailed 3D virtual images of each of the species' inner ear, revealing the dimension and shape.
The researchers found that the inner ears of the modern-day cheetahs are different from those of other felids alive today. They also likely evolved recently.
Researchers said that the unique inner ear anatomy of cheetahs living today offers clues as to why these predators are among the most successful hunters in the animal kingdom
"The vestibular system of modern cheetahs is extremely different in shape and proportions relative to other cats analysed," the researchers wrote in their study.
"These distinctive attributes (i.e., one of the greatest volumes of the vestibular system, dorsal extension of the anterior and posterior semicircular canals) correlate with a greater afferent sensitivity of the inner ear to head motions, facilitating postural and visual stability during high-speed prey pursuit and capture."
Competition With Other Predators
These particular traits were neither present in the now-extinct Acinonyx pardinensis, suggesting that the highly specialized inner ear of the modern cheetah has just recently evolved.
Grohé said that competition with other predators has led to the cheetah to evolving a high-speed hunting strategy. The ancestors of the modern-day cheetah evolved slender bones that contribute to their extraordinary speed.
When a cheetah runs, its head hardly moves at all. Researchers said that the animal also evolved an inner ear that is sensitive to head movement so it can hold its head still during a chase, enabling it to catch speedy preys.