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A cat’s incredible landing skills

Cats are acrobats
Karla Kirby

Nearly everyone knows about the incredible landing skills of the agile, graceful feline; but how is it done many wonder?

The feline uses his/her vestibular apparatus to determine up from down, once determined, the amazing feline manages to twist themselves around to face the earth without changing their angular momentum. They bend in the middle so that the front half of their body rotates about a different axis than the rear half. They then guck their elegant front legs in to decrease the moment of inertia of the front half of the body and expand their rear legs to add to the moment of inertia of the rear half of their body so that they can swivel their front half as much as 90° while the rear half spins in the reverse direction as little as (as 10°..

Depending on the feline’s suppleness and primary angular momentum, the feline may need to repeat steps two and three one or more times in order to absolute a full 180° rotation.

In addition to the incredible righting reflex cats have a number of other features that will lessen damage from a fall. Their light bone structure, small size, and thick fur decrease their terminal velocity. In addition, once righted they may also stretch out their body to boost drag and slow the fall to some degree.. A falling cat's terminal velocity is 60 mph while a falling human’s is 130 mph. At terminal velocity they also calm down as they fall, which protects them to some level on impact

With their righting reflex, cats frequently land uninjured. Still, this is not always the case, given that cats can still break bones or die from extreme falls.

The cat righting reflex is a feline’s inborn ability to orient him/herself as he/she falls in order to land on his/her feet. The righting reflex starts to appear at 3–4 weeks of age, and is perfected by 7 weeks of age. Cats are able to do this due to an unusually flexible backbone and no functional clavicle. The minimum height required for this to occur in most cats would be around 12 inches. Cats without a tail have this capability as well, since a cat mostly moves his/her hind legs and relies on management of angular momentum to set up for landing, and the tail is in fact little used for this achievement.

Cats are truly remarkable creatures, no wonder so many love them so.

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