Does a Cat Always Land on Its Feet?

(Image credit: Flickr user Mini Mookiy. This is not "Esther")

by Fiorella Gambale, Ph.D.
Institute for Feline Research
Milano, Italy

Cats have excellent balance, and are remarkably acrobatic. When turned upside down and dropped from a height, a cat generally has the ability to land on its feet. Until now, no one has systematically investigated the limits of this phenomenon. In this study, I dropped a cat upside down from various heights, and observed whether the cat landed on its feet.

Dropping a Cat Upside Down from a Height of 6 Feet


I dropped the cat from a height of six feet. I did this one hundred times. The cat always landed on its feet.

Dropping a Cat Upside Down from a Height of 5 Feet


I dropped the cat from a height of five feet. I did this one hundred times. The cat always landed on its feet.

Dropping a Cat Upside Down from a Height of 4 Feet


I dropped the cat from a height of four feet. I did this one hundred times. The cat always landed on its feet.

Dropping a Cat Upside Down from a Height of 3 Feet


I dropped the cat from a height of three feet. I did this one hundred times. The cat always landed on its feet.

Dropping a Cat Upside Down from a Height of 2 Feet


I dropped the cat from a height of two feet. I did this one hundred times. The cat always landed on its feet.

Dropping a Cat Upside Down from a Height of 1 Foot


I dropped the cat from a height of one foot. I did this one hundred times. The cat never landed on its feet.













































Drop HeightAttemptsLanded on feetDid not land on feet
6 ft.1001000
5 ft.1001000
4 ft.1001000
3 ft.1001000
2 ft.1001000
1 ft.1000100

Discussion


Popular belief is that "a cat will always land on its feet." My experiments show this to be true for drop heights ranging from six feet down to two feet. It is not true at a drop height of one foot.Does a cat land on its feet when dropped from a height of less than one foot? This preliminary study indicates that the answer may be no. However, further experiments, preferably with the same cat, are needed to settle the question.

Acknowledgments


I want to thank the cat, "Esther," for her initial cooperation in this experiment. Thank you, also, to Esther's owner, M.R. Young. And special thanks to the organization PFTAR (People For the Tarring-and-Feathering of Animal Researchers), whose indiscriminate yacketing inspired this project.

_____________________

This classic article is republished with permission from the July-August 1998 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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I was there when Fiorella conducted her tests, and I can attest to the fact that she actually cheated.

For the series of one-foot drops, she tied a piece of sliced bread, butter-side-up, to Esther's back. Since the "Cat-Lands-On-Its-feet" force was countered by the "Bread-Lands-Butter-Side-Down" phenomenon, a paradox was created.

Since the cat does possess intelligence, she was able to influence the result, i.e. landing gracelessly on her side. Had she been a goldfish, with but a rudimentary awareness, the result of the experiment would have been the creation of a singularity...
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I actually tested the same thing with my cat and I can say that results are in agreement with this except for the heights of 1 foot and less. My cat (name Garfield) landed approx 50% of the time on his feet when dropped from 1 foot or lower. I also observed that his success depended whether he was asleep or fully awake. If he was asleep he never bothered to turn. I am not sure how many repeats I had (probably over 100) but I know that I could not do them all in one day - the cat always ran away from me...:confused
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And why is it presumed that the 'feet first' rule applies only to cats in freefall? I think there should be testing on cats accelerated downward at high speeds.
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Its from the Annals of Improbable Research, which is a satirical publication poking fun at the standard scientific research community. (Ie: It's supposed to be funny.)

I'm willing to bet no cats were harmed and that none of this ever occurred.
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