The average person isn’t likely to survive terminal velocity, or the point when falling when you stop accelerating and maintain your highest speed.
In fact, a human is only 50% likely to survive a fall from 48 feet and the chance of survival after falling from 84 feet is only 10%.
When it comes to the animal kingdom, however, there are several animals that can fall from any height and survive. Many of these animals are smaller in size or have aerodynamic features that slow how fast they fall through the air.
So, which animals can fall from almost any height and survive?
Animals that can survive big falls include squirrels, small spiders, small lizards, ants, insects, mice, rats, hamsters, and cats. Most of these are smaller animals, so they fall at a slower rate than a person or larger mammal would. Size aside, animals like cats and squirrels have features that help them survive a fall, too.
We’ll take a closer look at these animals below and talk about the evolutionary features that let them survive falls from great heights.
Squirrels spend a lot of time scurrying through trees and rooftops, so it’s not likely that they don’t fall at least sometimes. Fortunately for squirrels, even when they fall, they’re likely to survive regardless of the height.
While researchers haven’t necessarily put the idea to the test, it’s generally believed that squirrels can fall from just about any height for two reasons.
First, squirrels are small. Basically, size matters because the downward force of an object is determined by its mass times the rate of acceleration.
The amount of force is going to affect how hard an object (or in this case, the squirrel) is going to hit the ground. Since squirrels are small, they are more affected by wind resistance than a larger mammal would be, so they hit the ground with less force.
Additionally, a squirrel’s big, fluffy tail increases drag and slows how fast they move through the air. Squirrels also spread their bodies out when falling. This means their maximum speed (or terminal velocity) is much slower than heavier mammals like humans or dogs.
There are more than 45,000 known spider species in the world, so it’s impossible to say that every type of spider would survive reaching terminal velocity during a fall. That being said, many spider species do have evolutionary features that help them survive a fall.
For smaller spiders, the force of air resistance against them slows their fall. Since they aren’t particularly heavy, their terminal velocity is slower than that of larger spiders.
Additionally, all species of spiders have eight legs that they can spread out while falling to increase drag and slow themselves down. Larger spiders are also covered in hair which is thought to increase drag and decrease terminal velocity.
Finally, as long as it is an intentional fall, spiders can have a web attached to the tree or building they are jumping from, which they use to slow themselves down.
When it comes to medium or large-sized spiders, however, there is still a risk of death from unintentional falls, though this depends on the surface that the spider is over. Falling from a height of 10-15 feet over concrete could kill a tarantula, for example, because the fall would rupture the spider’s abdomen.
Small Lizard Species
With lizards, the likelihood of surviving a fall usually depends on the lizard’s size. A larger lizard is going to fall harder and has a greater impact, which makes them more likely to be injured or die.
Smaller lizards, by contrast, are more affected by air resistance and fall slower. Leopard geckos often survive falls from 20-30 feet, for example, though they are unlikely to fall because of their “sticky” feet that help them grip onto everything.
Lizards are also known to stretch their body when jumping or falling, which increases their surface area. Having more surface area increases air resistance and drag, which slows the rate of fall.
Additionally, lizards are known for using their tail to flip themselves over in the air, which lets them land on their feet like cats often do. This also decreases the likelihood that they’ll be injured in a fall.
Anyone who has ever had a pet hamster can attest to how wiggly they can be when you hold them. For this reason, many family hamsters have taken a tumble out of someone’s hands at least once in their lives.
Hamsters are smaller and have a low mass, however, it’s not their size alone that determines whether they’ll survive a fall. For hamsters, it really matters whether or not their fall was planned.
When a hamster finds itself falling through the air, it doesn’t have a lot of control over how it is going to land. This puts the hamster at risk of head injuries or even a broken neck if it falls the wrong way, even if it is only falling from a height of 6 inches.
That being said, when in the wild, it’s not uncommon for hamsters to climb trees, and that puts them at risk of a fall. When planned, hamsters are able to roll once they hit the ground so they can survive falls from several feet, which is pretty high for a hamster.
Something to keep in mind if you are a hamster owner is that sometimes, the impact from the fall is enough to stun or paralyze your hamster. Give them a few minutes after a fall to start moving before panicking.
Mice and Rats
Most people like to keep critters like rats and mice out of their homes. Unfortunately, both rodents are excellent climbers that can scale vertical walls, climb trees, and even swim- which sometimes lets them enter homes through the sewage system!
Mice can survive terminal velocity because of their small size. They don’t reach a high enough speed that the force will kill them on impact because their terminal velocity is so much lower than that of a bigger animal like a horse.
Additionally, mice have a soft body that absorbs the force from impact without causing broken bones as long as the fall is not too high.
Even rats, which are bigger than mice, can survive a fall from high heights. While scientists aren’t out there dropping rats off buildings, it is believed that they can survive a fall of up to 50 feet without getting injured.
The exception, of course, is cases where the rat hits a hard object or lands on concrete after falling from a significant height. While they have a chance of landing on their feet without being injured, there is a greater chance of survival if they fall on something soft like grass rather than a hard surface like concrete.
Ants and Other Insects
Ants are really fascinating when you think about it. They’re capable of lifting 20 times their own body weight and can float on top of the water. Ants also never reach a velocity fast enough that they’ll die from a fall.
While ants’ other abilities come down to cool evolutionary features like their waxy, water-resistant bodies and super strength, their ability to survive a fall is a result of their size. They are so small that air resistance stops them from falling too fast through the air, so they won’t be injured when landing on the ground.
Many other small insects will survive terminal velocity because of their size as well. In addition to their size, the strong exoskeleton that many insects have prevents them from being injured during a fall.
Cockroaches are a good example of that. Their strong exoskeleton resists chemicals and protects them from falls, which may be one of the reasons they are so invasive.
Cats have a lot of cool features, from scent pads on their foreheads to a third eyelid that helps them see with their eyes closed. They are also one of the few larger mammals (at least compared to the animals on this list) that can survive a fall from several stories without being injured.
In a study published in 1987 where researchers analyzed cases of 132 cats falling about 5.5 stories, it was found that cats actually have a lower rate of being injured when falling from a height of more than 7 stories. It’s theorized that this is around when a cat reaches terminal velocity, so they relax and that decreases the impact when they land.
Additionally, the way that cats land might play a big role in whether or not they are injured. Cats have a “righting reflex” that lets them flip over in the air as lizards do, so they almost always land on their feet as long as they’ve had time to put themselves right.
What Animals Can Fall From Any Height?
The animals that can fall from just about any height and survive include squirrels, small spiders, insects like ants, and cats.
When it comes to animals that can fall from any height, the thing that matters most is terminal velocity. If an animal’s terminal velocity, or the highest speed at which they fall, is not fatal, then it’s likely the animal will be able to survive a fall from any height.
What Animal Can Fall 100 Feet Without Hurting Itself?
As humans have just a 10% chance of survival if they fall more than 84 feet, being able to fall 100 feet and survive is quite the evolutionary feat. That being said, the critters most likely to survive a fall from 100 feet without getting hurt include small spider species, squirrels, insects, and cats.
Even if they survive however, animals like squirrels and cats are heavier than the others mentioned, so they can be injured if they fall far enough, fall over a hard surface, or don’t land properly. Small spiders and insects are unlikely to be injured in a fall.
What is Terminal Velocity?
Terminal velocity describes the rate of free fall of a living or non-living thing. Basically, this is the maximum speed that a person, animal, or thing reaches when falling through a gas or liquid, like the air. At terminal velocity, the object no longer accelerates or decelerates.
The rate of free fall isn’t the same for everything that falls through the air because factors like surface area and the total weight of the object change when the object reaches its maximum speed.
It also changes what that maximum speed is. You see, you’ll reach terminal velocity during a fall when the force of air resistance and force of gravity are the same.
What Animals Can Survive Terminal Velocity?
The animals that can survive terminal velocity include squirrels, small spiders, small lizard species, hamsters, mice, rats, ants, insects, and cats.
Even though these animals can survive terminal velocity, it’s worth noting that there are other factors at play that determine survival. For example, a tarantula is more likely to survive a fall after reaching terminal velocity if it is prepared for the fall, or if it falls over a softer surface like grass.
The ability to fall many stories and survive is quite a feat, but there are several members of the animal kingdom that are likely to survive terminal velocity. This includes squirrels, cats, small lizards, hamsters, mice, and rats. Their small size makes them likely to survive.
There are also some animals that can fall more than 100 feet without being injured, particularly small spider species, ants, and insects. While other animals are likely to survive a fall, these animals may not even be injured because their small size makes their terminal velocity so low.