Cats are one of the most beautiful as well as ferocious creatures of the entire animal kingdom. But they also have a unique behavior that fancies the physics enthusiasts. If you have spent a lot of time with or around a cat, you would have observed that most of the old aged cats land on all four feet when the fall. You may have even seen this happen once or twice. Don’t you wish you could fall with such style and grace? Isn’t this strange? Do they have abilities that defy the laws of physics?
After all, if they fall straight this is acceptable, but if they rotate directly in mid-air, then there won’t be any external torque acting on them to stop. As a result of angular momentum conservation, they will continue to rotate. This is what happens when we humans do summersault in the air. We continue to rotate. For a perfect landing, we need a lot of practice and timing. Well in case of a cat it was assumed to be the same until the discovery of slow-motion cameras.
The Observation and Explanation-
Scientists have observed many fascinating things about cats falling, using slow motion cameras.
Researchers found that cats possess an innate ability that they call the righting reflex. The righting reflex allows cats to determine up from down quickly during a fall and to manoeuver their bodies into position to land on all four feet.
For example, when a cat falls, it uses either its eyesight or its balance system in its inner ear (called the vestibular apparatus) to determine which way is up. Cats have an incredible sense of balance, and their highly-flexible backbones allow them to rotate their upper bodies quickly to face downward. Their lower bodies then follow along, allowing them to land on all four feet.
Cats have a few other features that help them land consistently on all fours. Their small bodies are able to twist quickly in the air, and their light bone structure and thick fur help to soften the impact of a fall. Some cats even stretch out a bit during a fall in order to create more air resistance to slow their fall.
Exception and Limitations-
Cats do not always land on all four feet, unfortunately. Studies have shown that falls of 12 inches or less will not necessarily give cats enough time to right themselves in order to land on all four feet. When falls exceed 12 inches, though, it’s a pretty good bet that a cat will land on its feet.
Landing on its feet from a fall doesn’t mean that cats cannot be injured, though. Depending upon the height of the fall, cats can still suffer injuries from impact even when they land on all four feet. Veterinarians can tell you all sorts of stories about broken legs and other injuries suffered by a cat in falls.
Videography Demonstration of the Observation –
Video Courtesy- “Smarter EveryDay “