Comparative Anatomy Passion

During my first semester of veterinary school, the mountain of graduate-level courses was such that I didn’t have time to really sit back and appreciate the larger picture. All I could focus on was memorizing muscles, nerves, vessels, and structures of the various domestic species. Since then, I’ve had the time to truly enjoy this knowledge. I’ve relearned a great deal as I’ve had reason to teach my coworkers and friends some of the more interesting facts that govern the many species we see around us.

Rarely can I share this passion in an eloquent way. It is, after all, “blood and guts.” There’s just not much romanticizing one can do.

Thankfully, some breathtakingly creative folks working with the National Geographic Society have put together a 7 minute video of cheetahs running after a bait lure. It’s seven minutes I can confidently say you will not regret spending. The HD video is a slow-motion capture, so you’ll see everything in stunning detail.

Notice how the head stays level. The eyes face forward, allowing for binocular vision and excellent depth perception. Cats’ eyes are geared for tracking motion, which is obviously fit for catching prey that’s running away from you. The long, relatively heavy tail is used as a counterbalance. The extreme flexion of the spine allows a great deal of motion to be generated by the long stretches of spinal muscle running from chest to hips. The long proportions in the hind legs mean more elastic energy in the tendons and ligaments that can be used for forward propulsion. The front legs are used to help steer, but they also serve another critical purpose: they’re part of the initial grab to catch the prey. Predators not only have to move, they have to be able to manipulate their environment to some degree. They’ve evolved to have more ‘fingers’ than prey species, as well as greater ability to rotate the forelegs (palm up or palm down motions). Cats lack a collarbone, so the front leg is attached only by muscle — muscle clearly outlined under that spotted fur.

Elegance, grace, power, and harmony of function. Nature speaks to us with far more eloquence in far fewer words.

Acinonyx jubatus, the Cheetah.

Cheetahs on the Edge–Director’s Cut from Gregory Wilson on Vimeo.

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Filed under cats, comparative anatomy, feline

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