“It’s famously said that a lion is just a scaled-up house cat,” University College London researcher Anjali Goswami told The Atlantic. “That’s very weird.”
Domestic or big cat, they all walk the same, with the same posture. Other animals’ legs change as they grow, giving them more support and as a result, a different posture. For cats, that’s not the case – they walk in a bit of a crouch. The Atlantic suggests this stance is “useful for stalking and pouncing [or maybe] it allows them to accelerate forwards more easily, or makes them more agile.”
Goswami and fellow researchers John Hutchinson, Andrew Cuff and Luke Grinham are studying the legs of cats out of curiosity. Observing big cats at the Cat Survival Trust in Hertfordshire, England, the team has placed metal plates in the enclosures to measure the exertion of the cats’ steps.
“You can imagine walking around like this (in a crouch) takes a lot of exertion,” Hutchinson told The Atlantic. “We still don’t really understand how they do that without suffering problems.”
“Their muscles don’t increase enough in size to compensate for how much bigger they are,” Goswami added. “They definitely get weaker as they get bigger, relative to body size.”
Using the metal plates, which are similar to bathroom scales, the team is attempting to use the data gathered by the plates as well as data gathered from the camera that records the positions of the cats’ legs to figure out “how cats differ in their movements, and whether big ones have any biomechanical tricks that compensate for their unexpected postures.”
Unfortunately, gathering the data is taking longer than the researchers likely would have hoped. A golden cat they were trying to study refused to come near the plates, tigers at one zoo were scared of them and a Eurasian lynx named Pudding did everything but walk on them – he walked around them, leapt off them and bit the power cords.
Big or small, cats will be cats.