Ever wonder why cats always land on their feet? It’s an amazing ability that has given them the reputation for having “nine lives,” responsible for hours of internet cat video viewing. The BBC just posted a video of an African caracal doing the deed in slow-motion. Aside from the fact that this cat is absolutely gorgeous to watch, his movements demonstrate exactly how the “aerial righting reflex” manifests.
Cats have an incredibly flexible spine that allows them to move their top and bottom halves in different directions at the same time. As the giant kitty cat falls, he spins the front half of his body clockwise, while his back half moves counter-clockwise. With his body going in two different directions, it pushes against itself.
He also pulls his front legs closer to his body. As anyone who has ever ice skated knows, the more you pull in your arms, the faster you spin. While the top half is spinning quickly, he pushes his back legs out to slow the back half of his body. This is all done so quickly that the caracal is ready to land on the ground on all fours long before the ground rushes up to meet him.
Though it doesn’t say so in the video, part of this ability relies on having no functional clavicle to block the movement. The ability to twist like this first appears at 3–4 weeks of age, and is fully developed at 6–7 weeks. Strangely, their tails have nothing to do with this, so even tailless cats land on their feet.
The video is mesmerizing. So are the caracal’s ears. The developers of Neko Atsume (the digital crazy cat lady app) should really consider putting one of these guys in their next update. Check out the video and tweet me/us @JennaBusch/@Nerdist and let us know what you think!