Posts Tagged ‘radio lab’

Falling Cats

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

I get behind on my podcast listening, but last night I listened to the recent Radio Lab short ( that brought up that old claim that cats which fall from New York apartments have minor injuries if they fall from low floors, do not fair well from higher floors, and did well again if they fell from very high floors.

First, Neil deGrasse Tyson is right that the data set is flawed.  Lots of things could confuse the issue.  For example, maybe those cats falling from fancy penthouses have personal trainers, are very fit, and are better able to survive a fall, whereas those complacent 6th floor cats might be overweight and are not so suited to falling into the street.

That said, I can’t resist guessing.

I think it mostly comes to velocity on impact.  (What the cat hits also would matter–more on this below.)  Higher velocity is bad.  So falling from a low floor doesn’t offer enough time to get moving fast.  Fall from a higher floor and the cat will be traveling faster on impact.  So what about those very interesting cats falling from very high up?

They are offered a few seconds to try to learn to fly–and motivation to get it right.  I bet that if they hold their front legs just right that under-arm skin can be stretched to catch more wind resistance.   Maybe there is something similar that can be done with the back legs.  Some focused high altitude cats will even learn to steer and avoid landing on, say, the spiked fence out front.

In another nod to Neil, some of the penthouse cats maybe live in buildings with fancy doormen and canvas walkways to the sidewalk–that might be a good thing to aim for.

-kb, the Kent who has never thrown a cat from a window.

©2011 Kent Borg