In Hindi cheetah means "spotted one." The base color of the upper parts of an adult is tawny to bale bluff or grayish white, and the underparts are paler, often white. The coat is marked by round or oval black spots measuring .75 to 1.5 in. in diameter. The only exception to this is when recessive genes are inherited from both parents resulting in a more "blotchy" coat pattern. Cheetahs exhibiting this rare mutation were once thought to be a separate subspecies, but it is now known that they can appear in a litter of normal cheetahs. Only the white of the throat and the abdomen are unmarked with spots. The coat is coarse with the hair slightly longer at the nape than elswhere. The last third of the tail is marked by four to six black rings and a bushy white tuft at the very end. The tail rings are distinctive on each cheetah and enable individual identification. The cheetah has a small head with short ears, high set eyes and a black line which looks like a tear drop running from the inner aspect of each eye down to the mouth. The teeth are small and the nasal passages are large. The body resembles that of a greyhound and is slim with very long legs. An adult cheetah measures 67 to 94 cm. tall at the shoulder, and is 121 to 150 cm. in length, with an additional 70 to 81 cm. in tail length. The cheetah exhibits slight sexual dimorphism with the males being the larger sex.
The cheetah is the fastest terrestrial mammal with a speed range up to 71 mph. This top speed can only be maintained for roughly 275 meters. The cheetah moves foward roughly seven to eight meters in a single stride and completes four strides per second. Cheetah paws are less rounded and harder than most cats; this aids the cheetah in making quick turns. The claws are only semi-retractable and provide traction during running. Cheetah have reduced teeth compared to other large cats. This is perhaps because of their large nostrils, which are useful in quick air intake and do not leave room for the roots of larger teeth. Large lungs, liver, heart, and adrenals facilitate a rapid physical response. Cheetah have a long, fluid body which is streamlined over light bones. The tail acts to balance the body during quick turning. The spine functions as a spring for the back legs, which gives the cheetah added reach for each step. The black teardrops under each eye may enhance vision by minimizing glare from the sun.
Average mass: 53500 g.
Average basal metabolic rate: 61.77 W.