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10713.  Mon Nov 15, 2004 11:24 am Reply with quote

Fed up of having your work spoiled by having a cat walk on the computer keyboard? Here's an end to cat-typing misery:

Cats dislike having their back legs touched.

The idea that cats' whiskers represent their body width so they know whether they'll fit in a gap in a fence (say) is a common and much-repeated myth - though apparently cats do use their whiskers to gauge the size and width of objects.

Cats don't have a collarbone.

10720.  Mon Nov 15, 2004 2:56 pm Reply with quote

Love that software. But it sounds as though they do do the thing that's a common myth - or have I misunderstood?

10764.  Mon Nov 15, 2004 4:52 pm Reply with quote

Well, the traditional belief is that a cat's whiskers had a "wingspan" equal to the widest part of the cat's own body: meaning that if the animal tried to get through a gap which touched its whiskers, it went no further, knowing it wouldn't make it.

In fact, if a cat can get its head through a gap, then it will expect its body to be able to follow. However there does seem to be a strong following for the "body's-width-whiskers" theory, for example "How Stuff Works"
( ):

But the whisker's primary use is to help a cat judge whether or not he'll fit through an opening. A cat's whiskers are roughly as wide as his body -- sort of a natural ruler. The whisker tips are sensitive to pressure. You'll probably see a cat stick his head in and out of an opening before he puts his body in. He's judging the width of the opening, and is determining if he can fit into it.

The more scientific sources describe whiskers as detectors of air movement:

When there is too little light for even cats to see, they use vibrissae (commonly called whiskers) to aid with navigation and sensation. The vibrissae detect very small shifts in air currents, enabling a cat to know they are near obstructions without actually seeing the obstructions.

Independent movement of whiskers:

Whiskers are more than twice as thick as ordinary hairs, and their roots are set three times deeper. They are connected to muscle, which allows them to be moved backwards and forwards, and the bottom two rows can move independently of the top two.

However, this article also promotes the body-width argument, with an intriguing twist:

The whiskers are the same width as your cat’s body and are used as locators by judging how wide a place is before entering, consequently helping him to determine whether he can fit through small spaces. The length of the whiskers are genetically predetermined, so if your cat becomes fatter, he will lose this function.
(my emphasis.) Would this suggest, then, that the whiskers are merely telling kitty that a nominal cat the width of the whiskers or less would fit in the gap? What is the response of the moggy to "losing this function"? I think we should be told.

Maybe other cat facts would be safer.

10794.  Mon Nov 15, 2004 8:01 pm Reply with quote

But I think this would be a very good one to nail if we can get hold of the Regius Professor of Cattology and secure a definitive account of the latest research. Wikipedia is VG in general, but you're never really sure how authoritative.

The last quote in particular seems to give the lie to the whole notion; the mechanism only works if it works, it seems to say.

10798.  Mon Nov 15, 2004 9:45 pm Reply with quote

I have a friend who writes books about care of pets and has a lot of good sources - I'll ask her.

10802.  Mon Nov 15, 2004 10:44 pm Reply with quote

While researching this, I did find out one QI thing about cats:

While you have about 9,000 taste buds on your tongue, your cat has a mere 473. Your cat's taste buds are found in the form of mushroom-shaped papillae at the tip and sides of his tongue, and in cup-shaped papillae at the back of his tongue. Your cat's appreciation of food is more closely related to his ability to smell rather than to his sense of taste.

Your cat's taste will respond to flavor and to food's texture and temperature. Food that is below room temperature is a turnoff to most cats. This particular fastidiousness seems genetically programmed and may have provided some survival benefit for cats’ ancient ancestors. Perhaps eating recently killed prey was more healthful than eating it when it was stone cold. That would make good biological sense.

So there's a couple of QI questions - why wouldn't you want to take your cat out for a gourmet meal? Or alternatively, why wouldn't you offer your cat vichysoisse?

10803.  Mon Nov 15, 2004 10:46 pm Reply with quote

This website - - has a lot of good information about the use and function of whiskers, but this seems to summarise it. The use of whiskers includes:

* Navigation (judging the width of openings and the location of objects in the dark).

* To indicate mood.

* For the catching of prey.

Whiskers also come forward when prey is seized in the jaws. At this stage the whiskers will make contact with the target and give the cat information regarding dinner. Though little is known about what information is passed on, studies have shown domestic cats are quite capable of seizing and killing prey, even whilst blindfolded, as long as their whiskers make contact with the prey.

It is possible the whiskers help establish the position of prey and the correct area to apply the lethal bite. Tigers cannot focus their eyes on objects as close as prey held in the jaws and the whiskers may signal when the catch is dead.

10812.  Tue Nov 16, 2004 6:30 am Reply with quote

Cheshire Cats (copied from post 7764)
According to Brewer:
The phrase has never been satisfactorily explained, but it has been said that Cheshire cheese was once sold moulded like a cat that appeared to be grinning. The waggish explanation is that the cats know that Cheshire is a County Palatine and find the idea a source of perpetual amusement.

A County Palatine is one whose Earl had quasi-royal jurisdiction in recognition of its frontier status. Currently only Cheshire, Durham and Lancaster retain the title, but it used to be applied to somewhere called "Hexhamshire" amongst other places. Where's that, do you suppose?

10831.  Tue Nov 16, 2004 10:31 am Reply with quote

An answer from my friend who writes books about pets - very short, but she promises me a fuller one when she gets back from talking to a bunch of high school kids about being an author!

It's perhaps ONE of the functions in SOME cats. There are enough breeds, though, that have no whiskers or that have truncated ones (or curly, whatever) that this doesn't scan.

Whiskers detect air movement, barometric pressure, and are used in kitty communication, too (position of whiskers signals intent).

10836.  Tue Nov 16, 2004 10:45 am Reply with quote

I like this theory about cats and a parasite they carry called Toxoplasmosis gondii. We always knew they controlled us, of course...

From NewScientist (although I can't find the original article on their site, I do remember reading it there first):
A microscopic beast lying low in your brain may be exercising a subtle form of thought control, turning you into somebody slightly different.

This might sound pretty far-fetched, but evidence is growing that Toxoplasma gondii - a relative of the malaria parasite - can change the way you think. And you might already be infected without knowing it.

10849.  Tue Nov 16, 2004 11:30 am Reply with quote

This was in series 2, in a question we threw at Jo Brand. Apparently it makes men scruffy and women promiscuous (to over-simplify, of course).

10891.  Tue Nov 16, 2004 7:34 pm Reply with quote

Gosh - I missed that one. The cats made me record the wrong channel, you see. Something on lions, I think it was...

11924.  Wed Dec 08, 2004 5:03 am Reply with quote

Cats are not mentioned at any point in the Bible (I have checked this with a word-search through all the standard versions).

Dogs, on the other hand, merit 40 mentions, all but a handful of them pejorative in the extreme.

14928.  Wed Feb 02, 2005 9:33 am Reply with quote

That is quite surprising and interesting Gaazy, but if you were to use this in the show it would probably be best to specify “the word cat” or “domestic cats”, as lions are at least mentioned in the story of Daniel (and I suspect rather a lot).

(sorry to keep bringing up these old posts btw, but there are some quality factoids further down this thread)

14944.  Wed Feb 02, 2005 1:00 pm Reply with quote

And they'd all be your Asiatic Lions too, not your common or garden African plains lions.


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