Humpty Dumpty may have sat on a wall and had a great fall, but Humpty Dumpty wasn’t a cat. How do we know this? Because a cat can survive a great fall in one piece. A Moment of Science investigates the cat’s legendary ability to fall.
Cats can fall from great heights and survive. This phenomenon has been reported in newspapers like the New York Times, which published a story claiming that even cats falling from greater than seven floors have a good chance of survival.
The secret lies in the cat’s flexible spine and tail. As the cat falls, it instinctively turns so that it will land on its feet. If it’s falling head or back first, the cat will rotate the head and front legs to face downward then rotate the back legs into position; cats are flexible enough to rotate front and back quarters almost independently. Once feet downward, the cat’s body arches up, like a Halloween cat. This position increases air resistance and slows the cat down so that when it lands the body can absorb a lot of the impact of the fall.
While cats may not need all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, like poor Humpty Dumpty, they might need a veterinarian. Cats can survive incredible falls, but they often suffer broken bones and internal injuries; sadly, they don’t always live happily ever after.