Have you ever wondered why cats always land on their feet? It’s because of something called the cat righting reflex.
What’s the cat righting reflex?
Normally, if you see a cat fall, you’re probably panicking and not trying to pay attention to the physics of the whole situation mid-air. But if you slow down footage of a cat falling (which we hope you don’t set them up for at home!), you’ll see that cats have the ability to reorient themselves in midair to ensure they land feet first.
The cat righting reflex is that innate ability, and it’s made possible by a specialized collar bone (or clavicle) This clavicle is highly flexible, allowing a cat to rotate its body 180 degrees while in the air.
So, when a cat falls, it first extends its legs. Then it rotates its head to face the ground. As it falls, it will then begin to rotate its spine, using its flexible collarbone to control the rotation.
Finally, as a cat reaches the ground, its hind legs will extend to absorb the impact.
And if you’ve seen a cat take a fall, you know its front legs are ready to push off and run away pretty much immediately.
Do cats *always* land on their feet?
While cats can survive falls from great heights, nothing works 100% of the time.
Not all cats can use their righting reflex with the same success. Some may not have the same flexibility or strength as others, especially if they are old or injured. And sometimes the cat righting reflex is not always “right.” They do get hurt…or worse.
Overall, the righting reflex has been an important survival mechanism for cats. It allows them to escape predators and avoid injuries when falling from things they’ve climbed.
Cats are also able to use their righting reflex to perform acrobatic feats, such as jumping through hoops, or climbing up and down vertical surfaces. That’s because their reflexes are typically really fast and precise, allowing them to make rapid adjustments to their body position.
Are cats the only animals with a righting reflex?
The righting reflex is not unique to cats. Other animals, such as squirrels and certain species of primates, also have this ability.
But cats are particularly known for this reflex because they have a very low center of gravity and a flexible spine. This allows them to maintain control of their bodies better than most creatures.