The Incredible Science Behind the the Drinking Kitty

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September 1934: Mother and her three kittens could not resist the pail of milk, recently collected from the cow, and are seen helping themselves. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

A scientific study has isolated the incredible physics at play every time a cat takes a drink of water or milk. Looks like the cat’s out of the bag!

One of the animal world’s greatest mysteries has been solved: How cats can drink milk with out getting their chin or whiskers wet.

A group of U.S. researchers found that cats have just the right combination of fluid dynamics, gravity to inertia ratios and a mathematical dimensionless number to drink.  The study involved engineers and researchers from MIT, Virginia Tech and Princeton University, who tediously analyzed footage of both domestic and big cats drinking milk for over three and a half years.

(More Amazing Discoveries: The 50 Greatest Inventions of 2010)

Unlike dogs– who curls their tongues like a ladle to collect the water and then pull up what it can, a cat graciously curves its tongue under and slightly back, leaving the top surface of the tip of the tongue to lightly touch the liquid– far more sophisticated.

The research shows that a cat’s perfectly judged tongue speed allows them to draw the maximum amount of milk into their mouths when they lap. High-speed video footage revealed that domestic cats average about four laps per second, with each lap bringing 0.1 ml of liquid into the mouth. The team built a mechanical model of a cat according to the findings in order to do further research of the lapping mechanism. “Cats are smarter than people think, at least when it comes to hydrodynamics,” said Jeffrey Aristoff, a co-author on the study. (Learn more: How Did The Leopard Get His Spots? Scientists Explain.)

Even cats know there’s no use crying over spilled milk.

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