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Science Says The Tortoise Beats The Speedy Hare In Real Life, Too

Aug 27, 2018 11:50 PM EDT
Slow, steady animals — like the tortoise in Aesop's story — is actually faster in the long run. New research analyzes animal speed and size to reach a conclusion.
(Photo : Pixabay)

The iconic story of the tortoise and the hare is a lesson in persistence, but scientists say that it may actually be rooted in fact.

It's a story that every child has heard or read at least once: the slow yet determined tortoise and the fast yet unfocused hare locked in a race. At the end, the former outpaced the latter by virtue of his unwavering focus to make it to the finish line.

In real life, it's hard to picture a lumbering tortoise ever winning race against an energetic hare. However, new research reveals that slow and steady may actually be favored in the long run over those who are known for their bursts of great speed. It is, as it turns out, exactly how Aesop says it is.

Speedy Animals Average Slow Numbers

In a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University, analyzed the speeds of various animals based on land, air, and water.

Similar to the way Aesop's fable unfolded, the results of the analysis show that the world's fastest creatures turn out to be the slowest when their average movements are measured over their entire lifetimes.

In a report from Duke University, Bejan points out that the beloved fable isn't just a story about a race, but a metaphor reflecting life.

"We see in animal life two starkly different lifestyles — one with nearly steady feeding and daily sleep and another with short bursts of intermittent feeding interspersed with day-long siestas," he continues in a statement. "Both of these patterns are the rhythms of living that Aesop taught."

The same rule applies for aviation technology, according to Bejan who explains the modern jet fighter is faster than other airplanes when it comes to short bursts. However, it actually spends most of its time on the ground at rest. If its average speed is calculated over its entire lifetime, jet fighters pale in comparison to workhorse aircraft models designed for transport.

Speed, Size Go Hand In Hand

The findings arose from Bejan's previous paper that outlined his theory that animals' speed increases as their body mass rises, and the ratio is consistent across all species. This means that the relationship between a land-based vertebrate's speed and mass is the same as a fish's or a bird's.

"When I would give speeches on this topic, somebody would always bring up outliers to this principle such as the cheetah as counterexamples," Bejan explains. "But this study shows that these 'outliers' are to be expected and, when looked at over their lifetimes, are not so different from their lumbering cousins after all."

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