Why are cheetahs called cheetahs?

The cheetah derives its name from the Hindi word for chita, meaning spotted or sprinkled.

Young Cheetah. Photo: Portrait of a Cheetah Cub by Steve Wilson, on Flickr
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The names of other animals have also been derived from the same word, for example: chital (spotted deer) and chita-bora (a snake).

The cheetah’s scientific (Latin) name is Acinonyx jubatus. Acinonyx is probably derived from Greek: akaina (thorn) and onyx (claw). The cheetah’s claws are always out and non-retractable unlike other cats. This aids running fast and turning sharply when chasing prey.

Jubatus comes from the Latin, meaning: ‘having a crest or mane’. Cheetah fur is short except for a mane of longer fur at the nape and shoulders. This hair might be 8 centimetres in length. Cheetah cubs have more long hair. A ‘capelike covering’.

In Europe the cheetah was known as guepard in France, gepard in Germany and onza in Spain.

Hope this helps. The information, including the quote, comes from the best book on the wild cats: Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists.

3 thoughts on “Why are cheetahs called cheetahs?”

  1. Interesting information.

    I’ve heard that the mantle of long fur cheetah cubs have, is thought to offer them some protection from predators because it gives them a similar appearance to the fierce honey badger.

    • similar appearance to the fierce honey badger

      There appears to be several theories one of which is the one you state. Another is that it is camouflage. It may also protect them in hot and wet weather (maintain regular body temperature).


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