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Slow, steady tortoise beats speedy hare in real life, study shows

The new study is one of a few suggesting speed is overrated.

By
Brooks Hays
The tortoise wins the race of life, new research suggests. Photo by Pixabay/CC
The tortoise wins the race of life, new research suggests. Photo by Pixabay/CC

Aug. 27 (UPI) -- The lesson communicated by the tale of the tortoise and the hare, one of Aesop's fables, holds true in the animal kingdom, according to new research.

The fable's lesson is simple: consistency and perseverance beat out disinterested talent. In nature, faster animals tend to apply their speed inconsistently, just like Aesop's hare.

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"The fable of 'The Tortoise and the Hare' is a metaphor about life, not a story about a race," Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, said in a news release. "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. Both of these patterns are the rhythms of living that Aesop taught."

When Bejan and his colleagues averaged out the movements of dozens of animals across their lifetime, they found species capable of greater speeds across short distances tend to be the slowest over the long term.

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Researchers published their findings Monday in the journal Scientific Reports.

According to Bejan, the aviation industry provides a near-perfect corollary. While jet fighters can reach tremendous speeds, they spend the majority of their time on the ground. Commercial airplanes spend most of their time in the air.

Even the fastest species on Earth, scientists argue, tend to balance out their record speeds with a general laziness.

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"When I would give speeches on this topic, somebody would always bring up outliers to this principle such as the cheetah as counterexamples," said Bejan. "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."

The new study is one of a few suggesting speed is overrated. Last week, scientists published a new paper showing species with faster metabolism are at greater risk of extinction across evolutionary timescales.

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