We have all heard the saying “cats always land on their feet”. It’s a phenomenon that has certainly puzzled scientists for centuries! But is it true, or simply an urban myth? Let’s find out…
Why Do Cats Always Land On Their Feet
Cats have an inbuilt balancing system called the “righting reflex” that allows them to land on their feet. However, the height of the fall can affect their ability to land safely. For many years scientists battled about this ability of cats, as, initially, it was thought that when cats were dropped they somehow managed to “push off” the person’s hand.
However, the answer came in 1894, when Étienne-Jules Marey (a French scientist) discovered this wasn’t the case. Using a chronophotographic camera, he managed to capture a cat’s fall, then he was able to watch in slow-motion and see how cats land on their feet.
The vestibular system inside a cat’s ear is involved in balance and orientation and this allows cats to quickly figure out which way is up, and rotate their head instantly so the rest of the body will follow. Cats’ anatomy and their unique skeletal structures are very important factors for this ability, as they have no collarbone and a very flexible backbone with 30 vertebrae, which means that they can correct themselves easily and quickly during a fall.
How Do Cats Land On Their Feet
Let’s have a look in one-tenth of a second at how a cat is moving its body on its way down. First twirls like a dancer the front part of the body and then separately the back end. Slowing the descent like a parachutist and extending the claws so that will not slip when landing. Finally flexes the back to absorb the shock of impact.
However, the height of the cat’s fall has a large impact on if cats always land on their feet. According to a study done in 1987, where the New York City Animal Medical Centre analyzed vet records of cats that had fallen from multi-story buildings, the statistics were unbelievable. Most of the cats landed on concrete, and yet 90% of all those survived the fall, and only 37% of them required emergency care.
That is the reason why are credited with having nine lives. This ability can be found in kittens as early as 3 weeks old, and by tha age of 7 weeks it is fully developed.
Scientists believe that the higher the fall, the more time the cat has to right the position of the body. Once the cat has turned the feet towards the ground stretches the legs out, expanding his body size and creating air resistance. It’s almost like cats can turn themselves into little parachutes. It’s also believed that due to that reflex cats reach a maximum velocity of around 60mph, which is much slower than humans at about 120mph.
Do you know about the buttered cat paradox? Learn more HERE!
Despite the fact that cats can right themselves while falling it is still important that your cat cannot fall from heights. If you live in a block of flats make sure that you keep the windows closed or use window guards.
If your cat has sustained a fall, take it to the vet immediately as it might have serious internal injuries that you are not able to see.
Photo: Timur M
Sources: Scientific American