Performance between species

Mother Nature has some pretty fast, strong and scary animals. Humans actually falls into the category of being the slowest and weakest. If we want to learn about performance, maybe we should study them… if they would allow us. 

Species are formed as a result of small genetic differences. Mammals share a number of genes that are similar, with merely slight differences in their genetic code itself. Comparative, there are vast differences between land mammals on a morphological level. These include size, stature, muscle mass and limb length, to name a few. Muscle function of the various wild animal species are very poorly studied (only 0.9% of the 5500 mammal species have been studied on a muscular level.

The Myolab has already made some headway with regards to muscle contractility, metabolism and structure of some African wildlife species. For starters, the cat species (lion, caracal and cheetah) have more than 50% type IIX muscle fibres. Their prey, that includes the springbok, kudu, mountain reedbuck, blesbok and fallow deer also has more than 50% type IIX fibres. These fibres are very strong in comparison to the human equivalent.

In fact, the Myolab has shown that one type IIX single fibre from either the caracal or lion can produce three times the amount of power. To produce this exceptional power, these animals rely on efficient and an abundance of ATP generated from their muscle metabolism. Collectively, the cats and antelopes have a very high capacity to burn carbohydrate in the form of glycogen and blood glucose. However, this is where the prey has the advantage: they all have much more mitochondria in their muscle whereas the cats have very little.  In essence, the prey have speed and endurance whereas the cats only have speed. These findings confirm why cats need to stalk their prey and kill quickly. Once the antelope gets away and starts running, the odds of catching it becomes very poor.

What are we doing?

The Myolab has since collated all data on wild animals and is busy preparing a review manuscript for publication. Additionally, we are very fortunate to have a number of wildlife veterinarians forming part of this study and many species samples have since been collected. Thus, watch this space.


Dorothy Breed (University of Cape Town)

Richard Burroughs (University of Pretoria)

Tim Noakes (University of Cape Town)

Adrian Tordiffe (University of Pretoria)

Past students on this project

Jennifer Curry (Honours, 2010)

James Peart (Honours, 2014)

Buhlebethu Mpofu (Honours, 2015)

Samantha Knobel (Honours, 2016)

Daneil Feldmann (MSc, 2017)