South Dakota is a grassland biome where the Great Plains give way to the dramatic Black Hills. The state has rich animal diversity with distinct environments like pine forests, canyons, and eroded mountain ranges. And various animals, including some genuinely speedy creatures, thrive in these domains. Discover the fastest animals in South Dakota, including where you can find them and why they are so swift.
The pronghorn is a unique animal native to North America. It is the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere. They are also referred to as antelope. Their populations are most significant in the western rangelands of South Dakota and most counties west of the Missouri River. The pronghorn takes second place (right behind the cheetah) for the fastest land mammal, reaching speeds up to 61 miles per hour! But unlike the cheetah, pronghorns can maintain these intense speeds for much longer. They can achieve these rates due to their long, powerful legs and enlarged nostrils for increased oxygen intake.
Coyotes are medium-sized canines native to North America that live throughout the entire state in almost every habitat. No wonder they are South Dakota’s state animal! They are native species that prefer to live in tall grass or wooded areas near water. However, you may even find them in more urban and suburban areas. Coyotes can run up to 43 miles per hour, which is faster than the average dog or human. Their typical speed is around 20 mph when chasing prey or travelling long distances. These wild dogs have adapted to keep up with swift animals like rabbits, which can easily exceed 25 mph.
Prairie dogs are burrowing ground squirrels that inhabit North American grasslands. These little creatures are abundant in South Dakota, covering much of the state’s western portion. There are even entire towns dedicated to prairie dogs! You may not know it by looking at them, but these short-armed cuties can “book it” when they feel threatened or scared. The prairie dog can run up to 35 miles per hour using its strong legs to accelerate for short distances. Most are skittish around humans and dart away at the first sign of trouble. But don’t try to outrun them because you can’t! But remember that these little guys can also be aggressive and bite when cornered.
Bison are large bovines endemic to North America and inhabit grasslands and open savannas. One of the largest herds on the continent resides in South Dakota’s Badlands and consists of over 1,000 roaming individuals. These massive creatures can weigh up to 2,200 pounds but are surprisingly agile. They can run 35 miles per hour, swim, spin around quickly, and jump extremely tall fences. Their speed gives them an advantage when fighting predators or worthy rivals. If you ever see one in the wild, it’s best to stay away and not try to outrun them.
The mountain goat is a hooved mammal endemic to western North America and is the only species of its kind. These goats are not native to South Dakota. Still, a small, isolated population has resided in the Black Hills since the 1920s. Around 200 mountain goats call the granite peaks their home. This is another animal you wouldn’t expect to be fast, but it must be swift and agile to navigate steep terrain. They can run (or climb) up to 15 miles per hour, reaching 1500 vertical feet in 15 minutes. Now that’s a workout! They can conquer these speeds due to their muscular shoulders and cloven hooves with rubbery padded bottoms that give excellent grip.
The ring-necked pheasant was introduced to the United States from Asia as a game bird. Today, it primarily inhabits the country’s northern portion. They have been in South Dakota since the late 1800s and are the official state bird. You can find them in farm fields, woodland edges, and rangeland. These birds are unique because they are both speedy on land and in the air. They can run between eight and ten miles per hour and fly up to 45 mph. While they can fly short distances, they prefer to run.
The bighorn is a sheep species native to North America, and it gets its name from its large, sharply curved horns. These sheep are rare, but visitors can spot one of 350 in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. During the fall, males have head-butting contests. During this dominance display, they charge each other at a max speed of 20 miles per hour. Apart from their quick acceleration, they have impeccable balance and can jump up to 20 feet.