Our little furry friends are famously energetic and agile, but have you ever thought about how they exactly manage to pull it off with so much ease? You’ve probably heard the saying that cats always land on their feet, and if you’re lucky enough to have ever witnessed your little kitty hurl themselves from the couch only to twirl their way to a graceful and agile landing, you can perhaps guess why.
If you’ve ever wondered how and why our felines seem to have this nearly supernatural power, keep reading on. Today, we’re undertaking the question of whether, and if so, how cats always land on their feet.
A Long-Standing Mystery
So, why do felines always mysteriously land on their feet without a glitch? To let the cat out of the bag, it’s all in their flexible spine.
How felines could land on their feet was a question that has amazed some famous physicists through the generations. In the 19th century, for instance, James Clerk Maxwell—famous for his work on electromagnetism— frequently tossed felines out of windows and observed they fall in a bid to comprehend the cat self-righting mechanism. Physicists like Maxwell were stunned by the feline’s seeming proficiency to violate the law of conservation of angular momentum. In Physics, this law elucidates that a moving object will keep rotating in a similar direction unless affected by an external force.
To turn around, felines would need something to push against—but in mid-air, there’s nothing. Because felines can wrangle themselves into a standing position no matter how they fall and aren’t being affected by an external force in mid-air, it seemed as if they were shattering this universal law. In reality, of course, they weren’t. In the 1890s, cutting-edge high-speed photography of felines landing on their feet indicated what occurred when kitties right themselves in mid-air.
A Flexible Solution
Looking at the situation from a purely physics-based standpoint excluded some important evidence. Kittens are not the stringent ‘bodies’ of refined physics, and their flexible anatomy showed evidence.
If you’ve ever seen your cat worm its way into an impossibly tight area or escape under the thinnest of cracks, you’ll already realize just how moldable and flexible their bodies can be. This flexible spine, paired with strong muscles, plays out mid-air as a kitten works to the right itself. Feline to work out have more vertebrae than us humans, and as they fall, they can twirl their backbone in opposing directions at once. This action enables them to practically ‘push against’ themselves and differ in their direction. When they attain the correct direction, they can straighten out their backbone and land safely on their feet.
Contemporary slow-motion footages indicate that some species of feline go even a step further. The African Caracal feline is a potent jumper and can reach great heights while hunting prey. Like other felines, they use their backbone twisting technique to reorientate their body in mid-air.
To reach the exact position quickly, they utilize the same technique as an ice dancer. After twisting its backbone, an African Caracal will pull its front legs close to its body. The momentum conservation results in the front part of its body twisting faster and deepening the twist in its backbone to swing its back legs around more rapidly.
Designed for Acrobatics
Most felines can right themselves when dropped from a height of just 12 inches off the ground. Furthermore, they can survive from about 6 stories up, although it has been found that some felines have, incredibly, managed to recover from falls as high as 32 stories up.
A feline’s flexible backbone isn’t the only biological adaptation that helps it land safely. They have relatively small bodies, light bone structure, and heavy fur, which further help them. These traits add up to a lessened terminal velocity. The lightweight of Felines lessens the velocity at which they fall, while their thick fur increases the air resistance and ensures their smooth landing.
Felines have even been known to take this notion a step further by spanning their bodies into a sort of ‘parachute’ form that builds, even more, air resistance, lessening their falling speed hence the chance of injury.
A Balancing Act
We have noticed that felines employ their powerful, flexible backbones to right themselves as they fall, but while falling at such increased speeds, how do they maintain their balance and always comprehend which way is up?
Felines have an extraordinary sense of balance that we humans could only dream of. Some of it comes down to visual clues, but eventually, it’s a kitten’s vestibular apparatus that enables them to pull off such remarkable landings. The vestibular apparatus is a set of fluid-filled canals in the inner ear that comprises several nerve cells and receptors. When a feline moves its head, the fluid moves, too, and this activity is picked up by receptors and transferred via nerve impulse to the brain. The brain will automatically indicate the muscles on one side of the body to modify from the change in position, which deters the cat from falling over.
Humans have a similar setup. However, it’s not as refined. This intricate mechanism enables the feline to work out its direction about gravity and undertake the air’s writing process.
What Can Make a Cat Clumsy?
If you examine a cat landing on its feet, you’ll come across creatures as young as seven weeks old falling and landing using the twisting method. However, things can go seriously wrong with a cat’s understanding of balance. Because the typical cat lifestyle involves jumping about trees or furniture, it’s crucial to keep an eye out for trouble in the balance department.
Cats can lose their balance due to medical reasons:
- Ear Disorders, which can impede the vestibular apparatus
- Vestibular Disorder, which can be accelerated by various underlying causes
- Brain Disorder, the brain disease can affect the muscle control of the feline.
If your feline to work out is suddenly having a problem with its balance, consult your vet as soon as possible.