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How high can mammals jump?

by Leana Kell

How high can mammals jump?

Most mammals were born with the ability to jump. As humans, we regularly practice the art of jumping throughout our daily lives. Whether it's jumping onto a bus, or down a flight of steps, many of us cannot crush the urge to use the talent we've been given and jump!

Below, Beemat takes a look at the art of jumping amongst mammals currently living on our planet and which mammals can jump the highest.

The Art of Jumping Among Mammals

Jumping is a common behaviour among many mammals, used for everything from evading danger to reaching food. From kangaroos hopping in the outback to dolphins leaping in the ocean, it's clear that different environments have led to unique jumping adaptations.

Not all mammals can jump though - elephants, for instance, are too heavy. Humans, while not the most impressive jumpers in the animal kingdom, have always been fascinated with how high and far we can jump. This fascination has led to numerous sports centred around our jumping ability.

How High Can Humans Jump?

Let's first consider the human jump. The record for the highest standing jump by a male, at 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in), was set by Christopher Spell from the USA. This achievement took place in Shrub Oak, New York, USA, on February 7, 2021.and you can watch the video for yourself by clicking here.

This record-breaking feat is quite significant when considering that Spell was able to jump a height of 5 ft 7 in from a standing position. At just 25 years old at the time of setting the record, Spell credits his success to his rigorous training regime and dedication to his craft. He uses his experience and knowledge to help high school athletes reach the next level in their respective sports.

The Science Behind Jumping

Jumping, in its most basic form, is a complex interplay of physics and biomechanics. It involves the conversion of potential energy (stored within the muscles) into kinetic energy (the energy of motion). This transformation occurs through the contraction and extension of muscles, which generate force against the ground and propel the body upwards.

The key to a successful jump lies in maximising the force exerted during the 'take-off' phase while minimising the time it takes to do so—a principle known as the 'force-velocity relationship'. This relationship suggests that the faster a muscle can contract, the less force it can produce, and vice versa. Therefore, to achieve a high jump, an animal must strike a balance between force and speed.

Different mammals have evolved unique adaptations to optimise this principle. For instance, kangaroos and rabbits have long, powerful hind legs, which provide a larger muscle mass to generate force and longer levers for increased take-off velocity. Similarly, cats have a flexible spine that allows them to coil their bodies tightly and then 'spring' upwards, effectively increasing the force produced during take-off.

The angle at which an animal jumps can significantly affect the height achieved. The optimal angle for maximising jump height is 45 degrees, and many animals instinctively adopt a similar take-off angle. However, some, like the bushbaby, can adjust their take-off angle based on the nature of the jump—whether they're aiming for distance or height. 

Other Examples of Mammals and Their Jumping Abilities

How high can whales jump?

Whales are the largest mammals on the planet. When whales jump completely out of the water it is referred to as 'breaching'. It is difficult to offer a precise height for a whale jump because they tend to avoid humans when living in the wild, but it is known that a killer whale, or orca, can jump between 10 and 15 feet out of the water. One of the highest whale jumps caught on film is that of an orca jumping 15 feet while chasing a dolphin.

How high can kangaroos jump?

Kangaroo legs cannot move independently of one another so they are restricted to a bounding gait. This gait not only allows them to jump high distances, but also to cover jumps of up to 25 feet in one single leap.  Kangaroos have been known to jump as high as 6 feet in one single jump, and they can reach phenomenal speeds of over 35 miles per hour. This is all down to their Achilles tendon which is responsible for stretching and releasing the energy needed for the forward propelling motion.

How high can Tigers jump?

Tigers are the king of high jumpers, jumping heights of well over 10 feet at a time. They can also spring vertically up to heights of 20 feet when in full flight. In fact, animal experts still remain undecided about just how high a tiger can jump because each time a high jump record is set, another tiger breaks it. Tigers in captivity have been known to jump as high as 12 to 15 feet in the air, but like most animals, they do not perform at their absolute limit unless there is a desperate need to do so.

How high can Coyotes jump?

Coyotes are incredible athletes and very smart with it too. Most Coyotes can high jump a 5 foot fence, and some can even manage to scale a 6-8 ft height. Coyotes are also very adept at climbing so if held in captivity they require a 6 foot tall fence topped with a wire extender set at a 45-degree angle in order to ensure visitors remain safe.

Elephants can't jump

Sadly, some mammals do not possess the ability to jump. An elephant is one of the larger mammals that is unable to jump and this boils down to one simple reason - it doesn't have to. Most jumpy mammals such as kangaroos or a monkeys rely on jumping to escape predators, but elephants keep themselves safe in other ways, relying on their huge size and protective social groups. Other mammals that can't jump are sloths, hippos and rhinos, although unlike elephants, hippos and rhinos can have all four feet off the ground at the same time when they run.

The Role of Jumping in Survival

In the fascinating world of mammals, jumping serves as a critical survival skill and also has distinct roles beyond survival. The ability to leap extraordinary heights provides mammals with an edge in hunting or evading predators. For instance, Kangaroos, known to jump as high as 6 feet in one single bound, can reach impressive speeds of over 35 miles per hour, allowing them to escape threats effectively. Similarly, Pumas, capable of leaping from 45 feet away with an apex of around 16-18ft, use their astounding jumping for precise hunting. Interestingly, the highest recorded jump by any mammal is held by a puma or mountain lion, which leapt 7 meters (23 feet) straight up from a standstill.

Beyond survival, jumping also plays a significant role in non-survival functions such as communication. Springboks, for example, perform a behaviour called 'pronking' or 'stotting', where they leap into the air with an arched back and stiff legs. This behaviour, often seen in groups, is believed to be a form of social communication among these animals. It could serve as a warning signal to other group members about potential dangers or as a show of strength and fitness to deter predators. Thus, the act of jumping in mammals, while primarily a survival tool, also facilitates complex social interactions.

 

In conclusion, the world of mammals amazes us with its extraordinary jumping feats. From Kangaroos and Pumas, who utilise their remarkable leaping abilities for survival, to Springboks, who employ jumping as a complex means of social communication, the act of jumping in the mammalian world is truly awe-inspiring. The highest recorded jump by a mammal was by a puma, which, from a standstill, managed to leap a staggering 23 feet straight up.

These examples underscore the diversity and adaptability of mammals, demonstrating how they have evolved to use their physical capabilities in innovative ways to survive and communicate in their respective environments. As we continue to delve deeper into the fascinating world of animal locomotion and adaptation, it compels us to rethink our understanding of these creatures and appreciate the intricate nuances of their behaviour.

 


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