This is the science behind its ‘superpowers’
It is often said that a cat has seven lives for its ability to fall almost always on its feet, even from very high heights. But how do they do it?
The cat and its 7 lives … A myth?
In 1882, the French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotography pistol, a shotgun-like instrument capable of taking twelve consecutive frames per second. This allowed him to analyze the behavior of numerous animals, although of all his studies on the matter the most famous is the one he carried out with a cat in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris. In the “video,” he simply dropped the animal, to see if it always landed on its feet. It is considered the first film in history that shows the images of one of these cats alive. And also one of the first studies to investigate why a cat has seven lives. Or nine. Or six. It all depends on the culture you ask.
Marey had no idea what YouTube would be like; but, curiously, a fragment of that film can be seen today on this video platform. Nor did he know that other scientists would try to explain this phenomenon that he was showing. What he was clear about is that, for some reason, cats manage to fall on their paws the vast majority of times. And that this makes them almost superheroes. Now, what is this power due to? In reality, there is neither magic nor any miracle behind it, simply anatomy that has evolved to allow them to climb and jump on their prey so that they are the ones who get hurt.
Why does a cat have seven lives?
To this day, we are all clear that the idea that a cat has seven lives is nothing more than a myth. We should at least have it. They are quite easy to land without hurting themselves and this can save their lives on occasions when other animals would be seriously injured. But no, it doesn’t have a higher resistance to disease or anything like that.
Seven or nine lives?
Did you know that in many countries like Mexico, Peru, Italy, or Greece, the cat was attributed 9 lives and not 7?
You can even read online, by curling the curl more, that in some areas like Turkey, the cat has 6 lives. Be that as it may, too many this belief comes from Ancient Egypt when certain 8 deities headed by the solar God Atum-Ra joined, and the latter took the form of a cat forming the Ennead (the nine). Thus, with the cat mythologized as a sacred animal, these 9 members were associated with 9 lives, represented in this sacred animal.
But to this day, the cat’s lives have been subtracted until reaching 7, which is not bad … Quite possibly due to the relevance of this number in our society, in which both fiction and superstition have endowed 7 with much leadership.
But the thing does not stop there, because if we add to this that “they always fall on their feet”, we have the most perfect animal for both the real and urban jungle. Of course, do not think that it is only the result of practice, but of genetic inheritance and characteristics of their physiognomy for which these felines are capable of doing amazing things.
To begin with, they are still animals of flesh and blood and therefore, susceptible to damage in accidents at heights. Let’s not think that they can survive any fall. From CiberMascotas, as always, we defend the integrity of the animals and advocate for the respect and care of them, so we should not do any type of test to check the resistance to falls of these little ones, we only expose the facts with those that nature has endowed with these little felines.
The ability to fall standing up begins to develop almost one month of life and at two months it is considered a perfected skill. The fact that they can survive falls from various heights is mainly due to this ability to “straighten”, but not only does the cat live by straightening up, but also thanks to its lightness and a series of factors such as extending to oppose the air and relax the muscles just before impact, thus cushioning the fall.
But what about when it falls low and can spin at high speeds? Well, this straightening principle makes sense when we know the cat morphology since the lack of clavicle and a very flexible spine explain this incredible ability of these amazing animals.
Far from the belief that the balance of these animals is directly related to their tail, it seems that the main incidence in this virtue is due both to the aforementioned skeleton and to sight and the inner ear. This is how the cat orients itself spatially to know the position for the ground that it must take and, turning its body in several movements, it manages to straighten its body.
The anatomy of a feline superhero
In 1988, Dr. Jared Diamond published in Nature a study that analyzed the admissions of 132 cats in a veterinary clinic in New York.
They had all rushed in after falling, from different heights. However, the evolution was very different. 17 died while being transferred to the clinic or had to be euthanized upon arrival due to the severity of their injuries. Another 11 died after admission, but the rest survived. 104 cats that made it out alive after falling, some from surprisingly high heights. One of them fell from the 32nd floor and only broke a tooth and suffered a lung collapse. Two days later he was back home. This was not an isolated case. The most serious injuries occurred in those who had fallen from lower heights, usually below a seventh floor, And this is where one of the keys is why a cat has seven lives.
Cats versus humans
In this study, data obtained from cat accidents were compared with previous records and studies on human falls. Unlike the felines, the gravity of the humans was greater as the height from which they plunged increased.
This is a logical thing. What is peculiar is what happens with cats. What could be due then? First of all, it is taken into account that cats are much lighter. The mass of the animal determines the force of the impact, so it is understood that it is much higher in humans. However, other animals with a similar mass, such as small dogs, do not have this “gift.”
But the fact is that in the case of cats, their lightweight is joined by many other factors, the most striking being a skill called “righting reflex. ”
These animals have a very flexible spine and a highly developed vestibular system, which is also responsible for balance in humans. In addition, its front legs are not attached to the trunk through the clavicular bone, as is the case in other animals, so they are much more flexible and extensible. Therefore, when they detect that they are falling, they can turn first the upper part and then the lower part, thus landing on their legs. Apart from that, they can retract their limbs and arch the spine, increasing their resistance to the air, so that their own body acts as a “parachute”.
If to this is added that they have very muscular legs, capable of absorbing a good part of the impact against the ground, survival is much more assured than in other species. There is no more to see the case of humans, whose deaths from falls are usually due to head contusions. As much as it is said that a cat has seven lives, if they were hit like that in the skull they would also die. The thing is, they don’t give it to them.
In short, the Grim Reaper goes to look for cats on the same number of occasions as us. They are simply much more elusive, but there is nothing magical about their abilities. Anyway, just in case, if you have a feline friend, put bars on the windows at home. His tricks are not infallible.