This was supposed to be the only post (before I heard Dave Barry, that is) for today because with four cats anything and everything about them is fascinating. We have one cat who plays with water and will drink from any place. Mr. Bunter, like a dog, has been known to try to drink out of the toilet. He also drinks out of the fish tank. He used to drag the water bowl (a large heavy bowl glued to an old dinner plate) around the pantry. Then we got a fancy waterfall drinking fountain and he tries to move that also. The other three are more normal.
But now we have the physics of how cats drink. Delicately without wetting the whiskers. I went to get my glasses adjusted today at lunch and the optician, who also has cats, asked me if I had seen the story. So cat lovers everywhere are talking about this discovery. I always assumed it had something to do with the roughness of the tongue, but that would be wrong.
Cats, both big and little, are so much classier, according to new research by Pedro M. Reis and Roman Stocker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined by Sunghwan Jung of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Jeffrey M. Aristoff of Princeton.
Writing in the Thursday issue of Science, the four engineers report that the cat’s lapping method depends on its instinctive ability to calculate the point at which gravitational force would overcome inertia and cause the water to fall.
What happens is that 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.
The best part of the story is how they calculated the lapping speed based on cat size. Who knew? But then, who knew anything about how cats drink before this week?