Many myths abound concerning whether cats can land on all fours and as this sequence of pictures demonstrates, they have this amazing ability to do so. 

According to legend Mohammed is supposed to have bestowed upon the cat one of its remarkable abilities. One day, when the prophet was preparing himself for prayer he found that his cat, Muezza, was sleeping on his robe; unwilling to disturb the creature, the prophet tore off the sleeve on which she rested.

On his return, Muezza expressed her gratitude with a deep bow. In order to acknowledge this display of exquisite politeness, Mohammed granted to the cat and others like it the gift of always landing on their feet.

Without this 'righting reflex' a cat could easily break its back when falling. As it starts to fall, with its body upside-down, an automatic twisting reaction begins at the head end of the body. The head rotates first, until it is upright, the the front legs are brought up close to the face, ready to protect it from impact. (A blow to a cat's chin from underneath can be particularly serious.) Next, the upper part of the spine is twisted, bringing the front half of the body round in line with the head. Finally, the hind legs are bent up, so that all four limbs are now ready for touch down. As this happens, the cat twists the rear half of its body round to cat up with the front.  Finally, as it is about to make contact, it stretches all four legs out towards the ground and arches its back, as a way of reducing the force of the impact.

While this body-twisting is taking place, the stiffened tail is rotating like a propeller, acting as a counterbalancing device. All this occurs in a fraction of a second and it requires slow-motion film to analyse these rapid stages of the righting response.

Information extracted from: 'THE SECRET LIFE OF CATS' by Robert De Laroche and Jean Michel Labat and 'CATWATCHING' by Desmond Morris 



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