Monday, November 15, 2010

Cats beat gravity when they drink

"The cat darts its tongue, curving the upper side downward so that the tip lightly touches the surface of the water.

"The tongue is then pulled upward at high speed, drawing a column of water behind it.

"Just at the moment that gravity finally overcomes the rush of the water and starts to pull the column down -- snap! The cat's jaws have closed over the jet of water and swallowed it."

So four engineers, one with a family cat he had observed lapping, figured out how cats -- domestic ones and big ones both -- drink.

Unlike humans, most adult carnivores cannot fully close their mouths and create suction. The dog, for instance, "thrusts its tongue into the water, forming a crude cup with it and hauling the liquid back into the muzzle," according to the NYTimes story last week.

Without the lapping noises that dogs make while drinking, the cat's method of drinking is seen as much "classier."

Too fast for the human eye to see anything but a blur, the cat reportedly laps four times a second. Once the engineers had worked out a formula for lapping frequency vis a vis the weight of the cat species, they tried it out at a couple zoos, where the big cats lapped at the speeds they had predicted.

Although cats are known to have raspy hairs on their tongues, useful in grooming, those hairs play no part in lapping. The smooth tip of the cat's tongue is the only part involved in drinking.


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