Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tiny touches of the tongue - the elegance of cats.

I've learned something about my constant companions, two Abyssinian cats named Marvin and Melvin.  I've always wondered how the rapid petite tongue flickers they use while drinking could be getting much water into their mouths.  Now two MIT physicists have the simple answer. Their tongues perform a complex maneuver that pits gravity versus inertia in a delicate balance. Using high speed photography they found that:
...cats rest the tips of their tongues on the liquid's surface without penetrating it. The water sticks to the cat's tongue and is pulled upward as the cat draws its tongue into its mouth. When the cat closes its mouth, it breaks the liquid column but still keeps its chin and whiskers dry. Here is the full text of their article.
From Nicholas Wade's description:
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 cat laps four times a second — too fast for the human eye to see anything but a blur — and its tongue moves at a speed of one meter per second.

1 comment:

  1. Incredible precision, instinct and muscular control!