What's it
like to be
an animal?

About this website

In 1974, the philosopher Thomas Nagel proposed that a bat's feeling of being alive must be very different from a human's. After all, a human body is very different from a bat body, with its wings, blindness, sonar, and tiny size. Nagel believed he couldn't accurately conceive of a bat's experience: "In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat."

As a philosopher interested in the mind-body problem, Nagel's approach to animal experience was through consciousness. This website approaches it through speed. Some animals are blazing fast. Others are pitifully slow. But slow and fast are relative terms. Four miles per hour doesn't feel very fast to a human: it's approximately one body-length per second. But to a small insect it's approximately 100 body-lengths per second. A human traveling that fast would be going 20,000 miles per hour! This is why some animals' brains process visual stimuli much faster than ours, and why they have better reflexes (think about how hard it is to swat a fly). What does it feel like to comprehend the world at such speeds? You can only try to imagine it. But this website will at least give you the definitive numbers.

Why the numbers aren't definitive

While I've done my best to find accurate data, this website is primarily intended to be a fun way of thinking about animals. It shouldn't be relied upon for anything much more serious than that. Perhaps owing to a dearth of animal speed data on the internet, this site has become a common source, appearing in links and footnotes of much more serious websites. If anything, this illustrates how fragile the foundations of our shared knowledge are becoming, and how the internet's decentralized design accelerates the erosion of truth and authority. Here are two good reasons to question the numbers on SpeedOfAnimals.com:

1. The site's author (me) is neither a primary source (eg, an animal behaviorist), nor an authoritative evaluator of animal behavioral data. I have no training in this field, I'm just a guy that likes animals and thinks about how fast they go.

2. The "top speed" of an animal is not a simple thing to define. Very few of my data sources address questions like whether top speed is a peak velocity measured in one exceptional animal or whether it's attainable by any healthy member of the species. Or how long the subject animal was able to sustain its top speed. Or whether there were any special conditions (eg, wind) present at time of speed measurement. World class human sprinters can reach 30 MPH, but the average healthy adult tops out at around half that. So, what's the top speed of a human?

Some visitors have asked about my sources. I have some of them in the notes I compiled when building the site, and if you require them for a project you're working on I'm happy to share what I've got. But be warned that most of the sources aren't great, and the very idea that a species has a top speed is kind of dubious.

[back to animals]

Site concept, design, and creation by Alex Reisner. Animal descriptions are from Wikipedia and some silhouettes are from All Silhouettes.

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