How a cat always lands on its feet

I was trying to start my physics homework when I read this in my textbook:

These experiments explain how a cat always manages to land on its feet. When dropped toward the floor from an upside-down position, the cat turns its body by means of very quick swinging motions of its hind legs and tail.

So it’s real: cats do always land on their feet, at least for heights great than 2 feet. I have gone around the web reading about this, and there’s lots of interesting discussion and even research that has gone on about this, much more than the last time I took a look at the subject many years ago. There’s a robot that lands on its feet, like a cat. Evidently, it’s just real physics. Another intriguing thought is this:

Take the physics a little further, and you’ll realize that, for something the size of, say, an ant, there’s actually no risk whatsoever of dying because of (the impact following) a fall, no matter what the starting height. Terminal velocity for small insects isn’t “terminal” at all!

Put another way, ants (and the like) are their own parachutes.

Too bad that can’t scale to larger animals. And, for cats, which is just one of the animals that have the innate ability to reorient in mid-air, it may be safer to fall from a higher height than a lower one.

Cats DO survive a two or three story fall(which is nowhere NEAR their terminal velocity) better than they will survive a one story fall, purely because they have plenty of time to orient themselves and extend their legs for full cushioning of the fall. If they don’t have time to orient themselves, they often don’t get their body fully aligned and it’s a roll of the dice between bone strength and impact velocity.

There’s also this page on the topic. Now, I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a funny thought:

Hilariously, if you hurl a cat towards a ceiling, feet first, it will twist around in midair and bang its head on the ceiling.

Strange but true.

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