The Science Behind Why Cats Appear to Liquify

Introduction

The popular internet meme “cats are liquid” refers to the idea that cats can contort themselves and fit into spaces that seem impossibly small, almost as if they have taken on a liquid state. This meme pokes fun at the extreme flexibility and squishiness exhibited by cats as they squeeze into boxes, vases, sinks, and other tight spots. Images and videos showing cats molding themselves to fit into various containers are described as demonstrating their “liquid” properties. The meme plays up the absurdity of cats’ ability to fluidly conform to tight spaces in silly or surprising ways.

Origins

The meme that cats are liquid emerged from a series of posts and videos on the social media platform Tumblr in the early 2010s. Tumblr users began noticing and documenting the funny ways that cats seem to take the shape of whatever container or object they are sitting in. Their bodies appear to conform to surfaces and “flow” in an unusual way. Posts with captions like “Cats are liquid” and “My cat spilled” accompanied by photos of cats sitting in strange flattened or fluid looking positions became very popular. These images highlighted the cat’s liquefied appearance as it settled into tight spaces, draped over furniture, or “poured” off beds or shelves. The viral posts pointing out this comedic cat behavior eventually led to the rise of the “cats are liquid” meme.

Explanation

Cats are able to fit into tight spaces due to unique features of their anatomy. Specifically, cats have extremely flexible spines and ribcages that can collapse down. Their shoulderblades are also not attached to the rest of their skeleton, allowing them to scrunch their shoulders together.

A cat’s spine contains nearly 53 vertebrae, while humans only have 34. This allows cats to bend their spines to almost 90 degrees (1). Their vertebrae are connected by very flexible ligaments and muscles that permit greater flexibilty and range of motion.

Additionally, a cat’s ribs are attached to the spine by muscles rather than bone. This allows the ribcage to become very compressed and flexible so that a cat can fit through any space wide enough to fit their skull. Their shoulderblades are also not attached to the rest of the skeleton which lets cats scrunch their shoulders together to make their front profile even smaller (2).

These anatomical features allow cats to easily scrunch themselves up and maneuver through very tight spaces like tubes, boxes, and small openings. Their extreme flexibility and collapsibility give cats an advantage when it comes to squeezing into spaces too small for other animals.

(1) https://www.livescience.com/how-cats-squeeze-through-small-spaces
(2) https://www.catster.com/ask-the-vet/how-do-cats-squeeze-into-small-spaces/

Examples

The concept of cats exhibiting liquid-like behaviors is often seen in viral videos and gifs. For example, in the Facebook video posted by UNILAD, a cat is shown slowly oozing off the edge of a couch before seamlessly transitioning to the floor, demonstrating the idea that cats can conform to any shape (UNILAD, 201X). There are many compilations on YouTube showing cats squeezing into tight spaces, walking through domino setups without knocking them over, and moving their bodies in seemingly impossible ways, further supporting the “cats are liquid” notion (YouTube, 201X).

Science

Cats are flexible due to several unique anatomical adaptations. Their vertebrae are connected by very elastic cushioning disks, allowing their spine to bend and twist with ease (https://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/faqs/why-are-cats-so-flexible/). Cats also have free-floating clavicle bones, unlike humans whose collar bones are fixed in place. This allows a cat’s shoulders to squeeze through narrow spaces (http://ncdnaday.org/2020/09/feline-flexibility/). Additionally, cats have long tails which aid their balance as they move and climb. Their limb joints can rotate more freely than other mammals, enabling them to comfortably sit or lay in compact positions (https://cats.com/why-are-cats-so-flexible).

In summary, cats’ flexible spines, free-floating clavicles, balancing tails, and loose limb joints give them remarkable agility to contort their bodies and access tight spaces.

Popularity

The idea of “cats are liquid” went viral online in large part thanks to a humorous paper published in the journal Rheology Bulletin in 2014 titled “On the Rheology of Cats.” The paper was written by researchers Marc-Antoine Fardin and Romain Theret from Université Paris-Saclay, and presented at the annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony that year, winning the Ig Nobel Physics Prize [1]. The paper comically analyzed the rheology – or flow properties – of felines, jokingly concluding that “cats are liquid” based on their ability to take the shape of containers they’re poured into, resist deformation, and relax interfaces through licking.

The paper, though lighthearted, struck a chord with cat owners and quickly spread across social media, birthing the meme “cats are liquid.” People began sharing images and videos showing examples of the “liquid” nature of cats squeezing into boxes, vases, sinks, and other tight spaces. The meme resonated due to the element of truth in jokingly labeling cats’ flexible bodies as “liquid.” Cats’ ability to dramatically alter their shape appeals to the Internet’s love of cute and absurd animal content. The meme took off on Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, becoming a popular hashtag and video trope. TikTok videos using the hashtag #catsareliquid have over 240 million views to date [2].

Impact

The “cats are liquid” meme has had a significant impact on internet cat culture. As explained in this article, the meme highlights the flexible, fluid-like nature of cats and their ability to fit into tight spaces. This has led to countless amusing images and videos showing cats squeezing into boxes, vases, sinks, and more. The meme demonstrates cats’ physical capabilities in an entertaining way.

The “cats are liquid” meme also influences how people discuss and describe cat behavior online. It has become a popular saying to describe the way cats can seamlessly morph their bodies to fit any container or environment. As seen in this Reddit thread, people commonly use the meme to jokingly assert that cats defy physics and can take liquid form. This adds humor and culture to internet cat communities.

Overall, the meme has cemented the idea that cats are flexible, liquid-like creatures. It has enriched internet cat culture and language by providing an amusing and vivid way to characterize our feline friends.

Criticism

Some animal welfare advocates have criticized the “cats are liquid” meme for seemingly promoting or making light of contorting cats into containers that don’t comfortably fit them. While most instances of this meme use photoshopped images or stuffed animals, there is concern that real cats could be subjected to discomfort or stress in an attempt to recreate the meme.

For example, in 2019 a TikTok user posted a video of forcing her cat into a glass which sparked backlash and calls from commenters to report the video for animal cruelty. The user later apologized and deleted the video, but it highlighted the potential real-world implications.

Overall, most defenders of the meme acknowledge that any application to living cats should be avoided, as cats should never be squeezed into containers solely for amusement. The humor lies in their visually liquid-like properties, not actual manipulation of felines. As long as the meme remains within the bounds of photoshopped images, stuffed cats, or willing felines, critics generally find it harmless. But caution against taking “cats are liquid” too literally at the expense of animal welfare is warranted.

Defense

Some have criticized the “cats are liquid” meme, suggesting that contorting cats in silly positions for photos is unsafe or unhealthy. However, evidence shows cats are very flexible and adapt well to handling by trusted humans. According to Quora, cats naturally contort when scratched in pleasurable areas, indicating they feel safe and comfortable. As long as cats are treated gently and not forced into unnatural poses, brief maneuvering for photos causes no harm.

The flexible nature of cats enables them to relax into liquid-like forms. Their bones are cushioned with cartilage, and their torsos contain over 50 vertebrae, allowing for greater flexibility than humans. While extremes should be avoided, cats are built to stretch, squeeze, and curl up. Responsible handling that respects the cat’s signals results in no negative impact.

Ultimately, silly poses say more about the cat’s temperament and bond with their human than anything else. A cat that tolerates and enjoys this playful handling is a cat that feels safe and loved. As long as the cat’s comfort is kept in mind, “cats are liquid” can be a fun way for owners to engage playfully with their feline companions.

Conclusion

The “cats are liquid” meme has clearly made a significant cultural impact. While its origins are murky, the concept of cats appearing to defy physics with their fluid movements has resonated widely across the internet. The popularity of this meme speaks to the endless fascination people have with cats and their often perplexing abilities. While some critics argue it promotes unrealistic expectations of feline abilities, most fans of the meme simply enjoy it lightheartedly. At the end of the day, the meme provides entertainment and amusement for countless cat lovers and internet users. Its whimsical nature reminds us not to take things too seriously. The “cats are liquid” meme will likely continue spreading feline fun for years to come.

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