cat health
cat info
get a cat
cat travel


Anatomy of a hunter

Certainly, your cat is sweet. Those big round eyes, those cute whiskers, the little face, and the lovely sleek fur. But to some degree, we are being fooled by our instincts. We associate big eyes and relatively large heads with babies. The protective response that these features evoke in us are largely wasted on your cat. It does not look the way it does to make us feel all maternal and paternal about it. It has simply followed a parallel line of evolution in the process of becoming a highly efficent predator. It is distressing to know that our cats wreak havoc on the local wildlife, but this a tribute to the fact that cats have evolved to become superbly good at what they do.

Let us consider the anatomy of our garden tiger a bit more closely. That large head and even bigger eyes developed because your cat packs a load of sensory equipment that would not disgrace a modern fighter aircraft. Next time you feel protective toward your cat, remember that Kitty probably feels the same way about you; half-blind, largely deaf, lumbering, clawless beast that you are - and furthermore, almost totally lacking a sense of smell as well.

Where we gain on cats is that we can see colour. It was once thought that cats were totally colour blind, but in fact they can perceive some colours. It is just that colour does not play a large role in the twilight world of dusk and early dawn when cats like to do their hunting. (Cats are called 'crepuscular hunters' which comes from the Latin for twilight.) The birds and rodents which cats hunt have eyes on opposite sides of their skulls, allowing them almost 360 degree vision. Cats' eyes, like those of humans are forward facing. The principle is the same. Our monkey proto-ancestors wanted to know the exact distance to the branch they were about to jump to. The cat wants to know the exact distance of the rodent it is about to jump on. Two eyes, slightly apart, give stereoscopic vision, and the brain can translate the different images from each eye into a precise measure of distance. A cat gets just over 200 degrees of vision - more than a human because its brain case is smaller. It gets 50% more light too, since a reflective plate behind the eyes called the tapetum gives the rods and cones that create vision another chance at the image. and cats have 20 rods (for detecting light) for each cone (for colour).

Then there's the ears. Not only can your cat see a mouse scuttle across the lawn, it can hear it. Cats can hear frequencies that make bats sound like Pavarotti singing bass. At a squeak (heh!) a cat can hear up to 100 kilohertz. That's 80khz more than you, mate. If uncle Albert can impress kids by wiggling his ears, don't forget that a cat can rotate hers almost 180 degrees - independently. And those whiskers don't just let the cat know if it can get through a tight gap without getting stuck (if the whiskers haven't got the clearance, the rest of the body has not either). Whiskers are also sensitive to air currents, and so the cat can detect movement that is otherwise silent and invisible.

Oh, and did we mention smell? Cats are well aware of a range of orours that are totally beyond us. While cats probably cannot smell as well as dogs, they would certainly agree with with the opinion of the dog in a poem by Chesterton

Even smells like roses are not what they supposes
And goodness only knowses the noselessness of man.

In fact cats, like some other animals, can even 'taste' smells, with a set of sensory organs at the back of the mouth that humans are totally lacking. This is why cats sometimes seem to gulp in air when they are investigating something. It has been speculated that the reason why cats often lick themselves after being stroked is not because they feel your clumsy mitts have defiled their precious fur, but because you have obviously been determined to spread your scent all over them, and they want to analyse that scent to find out what you have been up to.

So put yourself in the mind of a mouse looking for a nibble of some tasty seeds in your garden. somewhere out there is a creature that can see you in near total darkness. It can pick up every rustle of every leaf, and every squeak from the rest of the family. Even if you move on tippy-toe, you can't stop your body from pushing aside the air you move through, carrying the vibration, and the smell to the cat's waiting senses. Now bear in mind that this sensory apparatus is connected to an alert, patient, high-speed killing machine. Are you still thinking 'cute'?


Home     What's new     Contact Us