• Question: Why do cats always land on their feet?

    Asked by candyangel99 to Indi on 14 Mar 2012.
    • Photo: Indi Ghangrekar

      Indi Ghangrekar answered on 14 Mar 2012:

      Hi candyangel99, I don’t know for certain but I think it’s probably something to do with their brains being very quick at carrying out and processing movement.

      This requires that their vision keeps up with how quickly they are moving through the air and being aware of landmarks around – like how far away the ground was and how it seems to be getting closer and the tree branch is moving further away. Plus they have to understand where these landmarks are so, the ground is normally underneath us but if they slip off a branch and their left side seems to be closer to the ground, they can think to adjust and tilt their bodies so the right side goes down a bit more so they land more evenly. Their sense of balance is also involved, in the ear there are 3 tubes (called canals) that help animals keep their balance and know which direction is up down and the rest and it is communicates and is sort of linked to visual cues of being right way up or not. If they’re falling through the air, the liquid that is in these ear canals changes direction and sensory cells that form the lining of the canals detect the change in the flow of the liquid and signal to the brain that something unexpected is happening. All of this info gets put together very quickly (quicker in some animals than others, I think if a sloth or a human fell out of a tree, it would find it more difficult to correct itself so quickly!) and the cat makes corrective changes to its posture and lands in a way that it won’t get hurt and can be ready for action straight away! The part of their brain that controls movement, the motor cortex, also has to be quick at making these movements happen. Their fur also helps because it creates a very large surface area overall and increases air resistance to slow them down a tiny bit and give them a fraction of a second longer to think about posture correction. Pretty cool, don’t you think?

      You can do experiments on yourself to do with vision and your balance organs but that you can do sitting down instead of falling out of trees! Let me know if you want to know them and I’ll try to see if they’re easily do-able and safe for you to try them out yourself!