Saturday, February 15, 2014

LANDING ON YOUR FEET, by Anderson, the Kitten

As you probably know, cats always land on their feet.  Well, almost always.  Kittens learn to do this by the time they are 6 or 7 weeks old, and they don't have to be taught how.  It's just something cats do without thinking.  I've been doing it myself for most of the 10 months of my life.  This is why Mom said maybe I should research how it's done and then write a blog entry about it, which I decided was a good idea.


First of all, I would like to say that being able to land on their feet makes cats way cooler than dogs or other animals.  There are several reasons why cats are so talented, and now I will tell you what those reasons are.

(1)  Cats have a really flexible backbone which has 30 vertebrae in it.  People only have 24.
(2)  Cats don't have functional shoulder blades.  This helps them be flexible and also fit through skinny openings.
(3)  Cats' small bodies, lightweight bones, and their fur help create "drag" to slow down their fall.
(4)  Cats have tails, but it turns out that has nothing to do with it, because you can land on your feet perfectly well without one.

So anyway, when a cat starts falling, he first has to figure out which way is up and which way is down.  There are two ways to do this, and one is by just looking, and the other is by using something called the vestibular system.  I had never heard of this before, so I didn't even know I had one.  I guess it's a little bit like a GPS system that's built into your ears.  It tells you where you are in relation to the ground, such as whether you are upside down, in motion, or off balance.

As soon as a cat notices he is upside down and falling, he turns his head until it is right-side up.  Then he arches his back and twists his spine.  This makes his front feet and then his hind legs move into the proper position under him.  His back end is the last thing to get turned around.  The cat holds his front paws close to the face to keep from slamming his face into the ground.

If his fall is long enough, a cat can start to relax and spread his body out more like a flying squirrel, which also helps him not land so hard.  The speed the cat is going at the end of the fall is called the terminal velocity.  A cat that has turned itself right-side up has a terminal velocity of 60 mph.  A person would have a terminal velocity of 130 mph.

Another way to slow terminal velocity

A lot of cats fall out of high-rise buildings because they are maybe trying to catch a bird, and they go through an open window or the screen comes loose or they fall off the balcony railing.  This happens so often that there is actually a name for it, which is high-rise syndrome.  A few years back, veterinarians began to notice that cats who fell from greater heights actually had fewer injuries than cats who fell from lower down.

So a study was done on this topic, and in 1987 it was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  The study included 132 cats who were brought into the New York Animal Medical Center after falling from buildings.  Out of the cats they treated, 90% survived and only 37% needed emergency treatment to keep them alive.  The number of injuries per cat increased according to the height fallen, up to seven stories, but after that the number of injuries decreased.  One cat that fell 32 stories onto concrete ended up with just a chipped tooth and a collapsed lung.  He got to go home after only 48 hours in the clinic.  The authors of the study thought that longer falls allowed cats to reach terminal velocity and then relax in order to create more drag.

Okay, so now I have told you the secret of how cats land on their feet.  Mom says that if I could give classes and teach people this important skill, we could get really rich.  But somehow I don't think people could ever learn to do it properly.  And anyway, it's nice to have something special that only cats can do!

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