Depths Of... Cat Science

Cat's out of the bag — we love these Wikipedia articles!

annie rauwerda
September 21, 2021

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Hi!

I’m Annie Rauwerda, and I started @depthsofwikipedia on InstagramTwitter, and TikTok to highlight my favorite Wikipedia rabbit holes. I partnered with Bullish Studios to round up the weirdest Wikipedia articles about a new subject every week. Next up: Cat science! 

Has any one species achieved better internet representation than cats? Here are some of my favorite Wikipedia rabbit holes that involve two of my favorite things: cats and science.

... plus CAT TRIVIA!

🐱 Purr-fect Landing

What is the physics behind cats’ innate ability to orient themselves feet first when falling? 

This had never even occurred to me before the Wikipedia article on the Falling Cat Problem entered my life. Though the behavior seems to violate the conservation of angular momentum, cats aren’t rigid bodies — they can change shape.

Don’t drop your cat off a table or anything, but please know that they can be modeled as two cylinders in one big tube, and I think that’s beautiful. Also, props to whoever made this gif.

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🍞 The Buttered Cat Paradox

Cats land feet first and toast seems to always land butter side down. So, what would happen if you put buttered toast on a cat? 

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There’s a whole Wikipedia page about the Buttered Cat Paradox which explores this humorous question. The answer: cats land feet first. 

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🚀 Astronaut Cat Félicette

Félicette is the first and only cat to have been successfully launched into space. Her 1963 journey was part of the French space program.

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She orbited 100 miles above Earth and descended safely in a custom parachute. Sadly, she was euthanized after the flight so scientists could study her brain. To honor her memory, a kickstarter campaign put a bronze statue of Félicette at the International Space University in France.

👅 Why Taste Sweetness When You Can Be It?

There’s an article dedicated to cat senses on Wikipedia. Some of these peculiar cat senses include the Jacobson's organ, a third eyelid, and a genetic mutation that prevents them from tasting sweetness.

As carnivores, cats losing their taste for sweetness was a neutral mutation — or even a beneficial one — causing them to hunt for nutrition rather than taste. 

Freddy Mercury with his cat, Tiffany, 1986

Quick Facts 

  • Attracting the Wrong Kind of Cougars: Calvin Klein's cologne 'Obsession' can draw big cats like Tigers, Jaguars, and more from as far as half a mile.
  • An Analysis of Cat Bells: Attaching a bell on a cat's collar will reduce the amount of captured birds by 30 to 40 percent.
  • The Modern Cat Litter: Ed Lowe invented modern cat litter in 1947 by accident and ended up making a fortune approaching $1 billion in today's dollars. Prior to Lowe's invention, people would typically used ashes and sand. He also worked with Jane Goodall to try to develop chimpanzee litter to no avail.
  • Cat Co-Author: In 1975, a physicist made his cat the co-author of a paper because writing ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ carries more authority. 
  • The Trouble with Tibbles: A cat named Tibbles once started bringing home dead birds of a newly discovered species, the Stephens Island Wren. The birds went extinct shortly after, and Tibbles the cat was accused of being the only single living creature to eradicate a species.
  • Cat's Out of the Bag: Because of their tendency to take the form of whatever container they're in, a study was conducted over whether cats should be classified as liquids or solids. It later won the Ig Nobel Prize

Trivia Time!

Congenital deafness most frequently occurs in cats with what color coat? 

  1. Black
  2. Tortoiseshell
  3. White
  4. Tabby

And Now: An Exclusive "Depths Of..." Interview Featuring Sean McGrath, the Original Photographer of the Electrostatics Cat 

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This image above has been submitted to me countless times, and I’ve been dying to know the story behind it for months.

After digging into the photo’s history, I found Sean McGrath, the original photographer, on Instagram. And he was nice enough to chat with me about the photo. 

Annie: Did you really take this photo? And is this your cat? 

Sean: I sure did. That’s my old cat Cooper.

Annie: No way! How’d Cooper get in this predicament? 

Sean: I had a bunch of boxes that came with packing peanuts, and I had dumped them into a single larger box that she had been playing in. 

Annie: The photo made an appearance in my college physics lecture! 

Sean: Oh wow. That’s so funny. 

Annie: This photo was taken in 2006. Is Cooper still alive?

Sean: No. Sadly, Cooper passed away seven years ago. 

Annie: Sorry to hear that. How did she end up on the Electrostatics page? Are you an active editor?

Sean: I had the photo up on Flickr as a Creative Commons license, and I had been picked up on so many various sites of the the years. Icanhascheezburger was the first that ever picked it up, and they even made a t-shirt of it at one point. 

Annie: Woah

Sean: There’s a running joke that 12 years after becoming a professional photographer, this photo is probably my most famous. I got this in the mail recently as a gift from a family member.

Annie: Were you uploading to Flickr a lot at the time? 

Sean: Yeah, I was just getting into photography. I shared that photo for solely the comedy aspect.

Annie: What was Cooper like?

Sean: She was so sweet to my wife and me, but she didn’t really like other people very much. But she converted us into cat lovers for life. This is our current nutbar.

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Sean's cat

Trivia Answer

Congenital deafness frequently occurs in cats with what color coat? White!

White cats with blue eyes have the highest rates of deafness. According to the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats: "17 to 20 percent of white cats with non-blue eyes are deaf; 40 percent of 'odd-eyed' white cats with one blue eye are deaf; and 65 to 85 percent of blue-eyed white cats are deaf."

JLo and Grumpy Cat

Hope all you cool cats enjoyed this edition of the newsletter! As always, feel free to forward this to a friend and send your thoughts/cat pics to [email protected].  

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