The other day I was trying to climb down my very steep bunk steps with my laptop in my hand when my foot slipped and I fell flat on my bottom. This was rather embarrassing, but it did bring a question to my mind. If I were a cat would I have landed on my feet? Yes I’m sure we have all heard the myth that cats always land flat footed, but I wanted to find out if this was actually true, and if it was, then why? How is it possible that you can throw a cat from anywhere, and watch as they somehow find a way to land on their feet? I decided to find out, in hopes that maybe I could take some tips from these highly coordinated animals.
1)Do cats always land on their feet?
Now with this being such a myth, it was difficult to find the evidence backing up the claim that cats always land on their feet. However, according to an article written by Laura Moss, “Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?” cats have something known as a rooting reflex, which allows them to quickly reorient their body in the air. The righting reflex doesn’t usually appear until the cat is around 3 weeks old, and it is then they are able to begin situating themselves midair. It is fully functionable by about 6-7 weeks of age. According to wikipedia, this is functional, due to the felines lack of a working clavicle and a very flexible backbone. According the Moser’s article, a study was done by a French scientist by the name of Etienne Jules Mary. Here is the video he used to analyze the cat. This man decided to test the theory by using a camera to take multiple shots in a one second frame, so he could watch the cat fall in slow motion. After playing the film back, he was able to see how the cats body repositioned itself in the air before safely landing on its feet. However this might not mean that a cat falls on their feet 100% of the time, which leads me to question two.
2) Why can cats land without death?
This was another question that came to mind. If cats have this innate ability to land on their feet, why are they able to fall from such tall heights without death? Yes, some cats might be injured, but even then they are still able to survive. Well according to this article, a study was done by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, explaining this situation. IT basically has to do with the maximum terminal velocity the cat reaches while falling. Unlike a human, they don’t have quite of high as a velocity which allows them to withstand the impact of the fall. The study watched 132 cats who fell anywhere from 5.5-32 stories high. In this time period the cats would have been able to reach their terminal velocity, however, there was a 90% survival rate. While ⅔ of the cats needed medical treatment, they still survived long enough to receive it and live through the fall. The article goes on to argue that cats are actually reported to have a lower mortality rate for falling from the stories 7 or above. This may seem weird because as a human we would want to fall from a lower story. However, with cats it is theorized that falling from a taller height actually gives them more time to adjust to the situation and relax their bodies. This, in turn, reduces their velocity and allows them to prepare for the impact.
It was hard to find more studies on the subject because people can’t ethically throw cats around, but I do believe I have come to a conclusoin. After my research I would say that cats probably don’t ALWAYS land on thier feet, but that doesn’t mean it happens the majority of the time. I am fairly certain based off of experiemnts and my own personal experience that cats do have an inate ability to land on their feet! I guess with this superpower, they won’t be needing their nine lives after all!