Lapping It Up and Shaking It Down

Today’s NY Times has an article on the physics behind cat lapping. A researcher at MIT watched his cat drinking from its bowl one morning and wondered how the cat conquered gravity to drink the liquid. Like dogs and many other carnivores, cats aren’t able to suck up liquids as we humans do. Dogs solve the problem by forming a cup with their tongue and ladling liquid into their mouths. It was assumed that cats used the rough spikes on their tongues to draw in liquid, but according to the study this is not the case. Instead, as reported in the Times, a cat’s lapping method “depends on its instinctive ability to calculate the balance between opposing gravitational and inertial forces.” Huh?

It seems a cat’s tongue darts out (at four laps per second, too fast for the human eye to catch) and the tip just touches the surface, creating a column of liquid that the cat then pulls into its mouth.

Another recent scientific study looked at dogs (and other mammals) to find out the speed at which they shake themselves dry. As reported in Wired, a group of physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that the bigger the animal, the slower it needs to shake. For instance, a labrador retriever oscillates at 4.3 Hz, a mouse at 27 Hz, and a bear at a mere 4 Hz. To read more about the Wet Dog Shake project and to see a video of animals shaking themselves dry, click here.

So there you have it. Two more mysteries of science solved. Now if scientists could only get to work on the one that baffles me: Why do cats always plop down on your newspaper when you’re reading?


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