Cats can squeeze into incredibly tight spaces, and this has always been a mystery to humans, who are still trying to find out the answer to the question: how do felines do this?

Cats are so flexible and have given rise to so many questions that a 2014 study, conducted half-jokingly, looked at whether they are, in fact, “liquid” matter.

But kidding aside, even traditional fluid mechanics can’t provide an explanation for the impressive display of contortion that kittens put on when they squeeze into tight spaces. Under these conditions, what is the answer, in fact?

Shoulders, the key to cat flexibility

The key to a cat’s unique ability to “flow” like fluids through very small openings lies in their unique shoulder construction. In humans, the shoulder girdle is composed of the shoulder blades and collarbone, portions that are interconnected, and the resulting structure provides support for the arm muscles.

Thus, at the opposite pole, the shoulder girdle of cats is attached to the rest of the body only by muscles, not by bones, according to LiveScience. The same is true of feline clavicles, portions of bone that are much smaller compared to the rest of the body, unlike the ratio in humans.

These anatomical features help cats to squeeze through extremely narrow cracks. The ability to fit into small spaces is an advantage that adapts to the situation: when the cat is hunting small prey such as mice or when running and hiding from potential enemies.

In addition, cats’ whiskers are tools that help them fit into the smallest spaces. Whiskers are hairs twice as thick as those on their fur and penetrate three times deeper into the skin.

Nobel Research: Cats Can Be ‘Liquid’

“The base of each whisker is surrounded by nerve endings, which provide cats with a highly sensitive navigation system and also convey a great deal of information about their surroundings. That includes an appreciation of the size of a particular space they want to end up in,” said Natalie Dowgray, UK director of the International Society of Feline Medicine.

In parallel, a researcher from Diderot University in Paris analyzed in 2014 whether cats are, in fact, liquid. For his research, Marc Antoine Fardin received the Ig Nobel Prize (a parody of the Nobel Prize, which awards scientists for work that “first makes the public laugh, then think”). Fardin’s conclusions were that cats can become either “liquid” or “solid”, depending on each pose. They are liquid when they adapt to a space, thus meeting the definition of liquid material.

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