Missouri's Fastest

By Matt Seek | illustrations by Mark Raithel | June 1, 2010
From Xplor: June/July 2010

In nature, fast animals have an edge. Migrating birds that reach their destination fastest get the best food and nests. Speed helps some animals outrun danger and others catch food. Read on to learn why Missouri’s quickest creatures have a need for speed.

Peregrine falcon

A peregrine (pair-uh-grin) falcon, Missouri’s fastest bird, hunts high in the sky. When it spots another bird, it folds its wings and dives. WHOOSH! Like a missile, the falcon free falls toward its prey at 200 miles per hour. To shield its eyes from the rush of air, the peregrine closes clear eyelids that act like goggles. In seconds, the falcon slams into the unsuspecting bird, knocking it unconscious. As its victim tumbles from the sky, the peregrine circles back to pluck it from the air for dinner.

northern Pike

Missouri’s fastest fish, the northern pike, is an ambush predator. It lurks in underwater weeds with its long, torpedoshaped body cocked into an S, waiting to strike. When another fish swims by—SWISH!— the pike lunges out to snare the unlucky victim in its mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. Pike are big fish that eat lots of food. But at times a pike’s appetite gets the best of it. Sometimes they try to swallow fish bigger than themselves!

eastern coachwhip

Coachwhips are so named because they look like the whips used to lash horses that pulled coaches and wagons across the Old West. These speedy serpents can slither quicker than any other Missouri snake. If a predator comes close, coachwhips disappear in a burst of speed. When hunting, they use their quickness to race down prey, catch it with their mouths, and begin eating it while it’s still alive.

collared lizard

Collared lizards, Missouri’s fastest reptile, can scurry in a hurry. These colorful reptiles live on rocky glades where they have to be fast to catch insects, small snakes and other animals to eat and dash away from roadrunners and other predators. When a collared lizard has a need for extra speed, it stands up and runs on its hind legs, using its long tail for balance.

tiger beetle

If Missouri’s fastest insect, the tiger beetle, had legs as long as a human’s, it could zip around at 240 mph—faster than NASCAR racers drive! Lucky for us, these turbo-predators, which have sickle-shaped jaws used to impale prey, are only ½-inch long. Still, for their size, tiger beetles are blindingly quick. In fact, when they dash really fast, their eyes quit working, and they have to stop and get their bearings before they can dart off again.


Usain Bolt, a sprinter from Jamaica, is the world’s fastest human. At the Olympics, he ran the 100-meter dash in about 9 seconds, with a top speed of 27 mph. Though he’s one fast mammal, in a race against Missouri’s wild canines (dogs), Usain wouldn’t even be in the pack. Instead, red and gray foxes would win silver and bronze medals. And coyotes (kie-oh-tees), which zip across our grasslands at a blistering 43 mph, would get the gold. Now that’s doggone fast!


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This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Bonnie Chasteen
Chris Cloyd
Peg Craft
Les Fortenberry
Chris Haefke
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Kevin Lanahan
Joan McKee
Kevin Muenks
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Alicia Weaver
Cliff White
Kipp Woods