By guest blogger Beth Adelman, book editor and certified cat behavior consultant
I watched Cannoli, my 3-year-old male cat, track a fly in our bedroom. He sat on top of my dresser, locked on as it circled the room up near the ceiling. As excited as he was (I could tell because his pupils were huge, his skin was twitching ever so slightly and his chin quivered), he barely moved at all. Occasionally he relocated to another part of the room, nearer to the fly, with a wonderful economy of movement. But mostly, he watched very attentively and patiently, tracking the fly with tiny movements of his head.
Cats’ vision is optimized to follow movement, especially in their peripheral vision. Their total field of view (how far they can see to the sides when facing forward) is an amazing 280 degrees, versus our puny human 180 degrees. That’s one reason why the very best cat toys move in unpredictable ways—just like a fly. When there are no bugs handy, Cannoli depends on me to make his toys move in ways that are challenging enough to satisfy his desire to be a ninja cat.
Eventually, because Cannoli was so still, the fly came quite close. Then, in a movement so fast I could barely see it, he snatched the fly out of mid-air with his paw.
Consider the hand-eye coordination involved in doing that. A large section of the feline brain is devoted to perceiving and interpreting movement, enabling cats to pinpoint locations in space much faster than we can. Can I pluck a fly out of mid-air? No. My brain is just not equipped for it.
Cannoli dropped his fly on the floor and stood over it, drooling with pleasure. It made a small movement, and he squashed it in one quick motion, then walked away.
So many of my colleagues even believe their cats think and behave like humans. Inevitably, they’re disappointed, because cats are nothing like us. But it’s their absolute animal “otherness” that I find so breathtaking. I love it that Cannoli can sleep snuggled next to my pillow, then wake up in the morning and be a perfectly tuned hunting machine. It’s awesome to watch him do exactly what nature designed him for.
He also proves that old adage: You really do catch more flies with a honey.