In the video below you can check out the murder mittens in action!
The term “murder mittens” is a popular name for the paws of cats. Cats are predators and their paws are very well adapted for this function. Whereas humans have a form of locomotion that involves planting the heel of the foot (plantigrade) on the ground, cats walk on their toes or digits (digitigrade), which allows for more speed and a longer stride when running. Additionally, the paws of cats have pads that soften impacts and dampen the sounds they make when they are moving making them stealth predators. Finally, the paws of cats also have sharp retractable claws which are used to trap prey and also helps them climb.
In the images below you can see science cat showing off her paws and also a mouse that she killed in our house.
The images of Science cat belong to the author and can only be used with permission.
Cats have a set of specialized hairs that we call whiskers and scientists call vibrissae. These hairs are longer and thicker than regular hairs and their roots are also embedded much deeper in the flesh. Whiskers are present on top of the eyes and upper lip of the animal as well as on the chin, forelegs, and ears. Each whisker is connected to a sensory structure called a proprioceptor which sends its signals to the brain, so you can think of whiskers as very sensitive tactile hairs. Whiskers allow the cat to balance its body, sense its environment, and communicate emotions. About 40% of the area of the sensory centers of the cat’s brain is involved in processing the input from whiskers!
One particular thing that differentiates whiskers from other hairs is that whiskers are attached to special striated capsular muscles that can be moved voluntarily by the animal. Although people do not have whiskers, 35% of human beings have what seem to be remnants of these striated whisker muscles in their upper lips. These vestigial muscles are evolutionary remnants of the muscles that moved the whiskers of our whiskered ancestor.
In the images below, you can see several views of Science Cat’s head showing her whiskers.
The images belong to the author and can only be used with permission.
We tend to associate tail wagging with dogs. Almost everyone has seen happy dogs shaking their tails, and we have jokes and cartoons about it. We even have the phase “wag the dog” to describe when a small or less powerful entity takes control of a bigger or more powerful one. Apart from signaling that they are happy, dogs use their tails to communicate various messages about themselves, but, as it turns out, there are other species of animals besides dogs that use their tails to communicate things, and one of them is cats.
Dogs evolved from wolves (Canis Lupus), which live in packs, so they tend to be social and expressive animals. However, domestic cats are evolved from the African Wildcat (Felix sylvestris lybica), which are solitary nocturnal animals, so the tail signals of cats are different from those of dogs.
When cats curve and swish their whole tail from side to side it may indicate excitement or deep focus as when stalking a prey. This is a common predatory behavior especially if the ears are standing upright. However, a tail moving back and forth can also signal irritation or pain especially when associated with arched backs and lowered heads. When the cat only swishes the tip of its tail, it indicates that they are about to pounce or they are playing, but it can also signal that they are annoyed. If a cat wants to signal it is happy, it will stick its tail straight up, which in dogs is a sign of alertness, not happiness.
In the video below Science Cat demonstrates how cats wag their tails. She is intensely looking at some birds in the bush outside while swishing her tail with her ears upright.
Have you ever wondered why cat’s eyes are the way they are? In bright light the pupils of cats look like slits whereas in dim light their pupils look circular. I have documented this phenomenon in the pictures of Science Cat below.
Cats are predators that are biologically designed to hunt at night. The shape of cat’s pupils is an adaptation that reduces the amount of glare during the day and increases the amount of light that enters the eyes during the night. Whereas circular pupils such as those of humans can expand their area 15-fold in going from a fully constricted to a fully dilated shape, those of cats undergo a 135-fold change during this transition. But what allows cats to see better at night is that the density of a type of light receptor in their eyes called “rods” is 6 to 8 times higher than that of a human. Rods permit the detection of very faint light signals. Additionally, cats have a layer of tissue in the back of their retinas called the tapetum lucidum which reflects light back into the light receptors of the eye increasing the amount of light that they can detect. This is why if you use flash photography at night on a cat, like I did with Science Cat below, they look like little demons!
The photographs of Science Cat are property of the author and can only be used with permission.
Cats are uniquely adapted for jumping and running. Unlike the spinal columns of humans which possess vertebrae that are held together by ligaments, the vertebrae of the spinal columns of cats are held together by muscles. This allows cats to bend their spinal columns into a perfect U shape. Cats can flex and extend their spines in a manner that allows their bodies to act like a spring when running or jumping. Their powerful hindleg muscles also allow them to generate large forces, and the length of their hind limbs relative to their lean body mass maximizes their takeoff velocity when jumping.
In the video below, Science Cat performs a cat jump.
An ability of cats that has intrigued people throughout the ages is their capacity to land on their feet when falling, even if their legs initially point away from the ground. Cats are able to right themselves in midair, and scientists have studied the reason why and have come up with mathematical models to explain it. Research into the physics of falling cats funded by the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA) has generated information useful for astronauts trying to turn themselves around in conditions of zero gravity.
Destin from SmarterEveryDay performs a cat dropping demonstration in the video below and addresses the physics involved in the process.
The image below by Akiyoshi Kitaoka exploits the way the brain perceives reality to create the illusion of motion. The video underneath demonstrates that this perception is not unique to human beings. This indicates that there are similarities in the way nervous systems of related animals (humans and cats in this case) perceive reality.