I am the furthest thing from a “cat person”. I think that they are cute and all but I would never own a cat of my own. However, there is something that has always interested me about cats. I find it extremely interesting that cats are said to always land on their feet when they fall. One of my friends, Allie, has a cat that is about 3 and a half years old and I still remember when she first got him. Sully, Allies cat, was super tiny when he first came home and looked a lot like Sully from Monsters Inc., hence the name. He could just fit in the palm of our hands. We were playing with him in the living room and Allie put him on the couch. We turned around for a split second and before we could react, Sully fell off the couch, and what do you know, he landed right on his feet. I had always heard that that is what cats do, but I didn’t believe it, and I had witnessed a cat turn itself completely in mid-air and land on its feet.
The well-known myth about cats is that they always land on their feet when they fall. Well, that myth is not so much a myth, and there is science behind how cats do it. People seem to think that cats have can for some reason “defy gravity”, and that seems to be true. Almost every time a cat falls it will land on its feet. I say almost every time because a cats’ ability to actually land on its feet safely actually depends on the height of the fall. Even though they always land on their feet, doesn’t always mean that they do it safely. By this, I mean that depending on how high the cat falls depends on whether or not the cat sustains any injuries. Surprisingly, higher heights give the cats the chance to experience a safer landing, whereas lower heights put the cats at a higher risk of injury. At the right height, a feline can land safely without any harm done.
When a cat falls, it is able to turn its entire body around in order to position itself exactly to land on its feet, this ability is called “righting reflex”. Officially, the righting reflex is a reflex that corrects the orientation of the body when it is taken out of its normal position (Righting Reflex). Cats are capable of doing this at the young age of only 3 weeks old. In 1890, to test the righting reflex a group of French students dropped cats and took a burst of pictures of the cat as it was falling (Moss). This allowed them to look at the pictures in slow motion to observe the cats righting reflex.
What happens is a cats’ ears act as a sort of compass and helps the cat navigate which way is up and which way is down. Once the cat is aware of which way is up, it starts moving its head around. Felines don’t have collarbones so their backs are exceptionally flexible and that’s how they are able to rotate the way that they do. Then the cat is able to position its feet underneath itself so that its face is protected from the impact. (Moss) Watching different videos of cats falling in slow motion, you can see that the cats rotate starting with their heads and then in a twisting motion the rest of the body rotates down to the feet and the cat lands on its feet.
Moss, Laura. “Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?” MNN. N.p., July 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.
“Righting Reflex.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.