Ever wonder how cats always manage to land on their feet? You’re not alone. Experts have been throwing cats around and arguing over the results for over a century. But thanks to this mesmerising slow-mo clip of a leaping wild cat taken from the BBC’s Life in the Air, we have a clear explanation of exactly how cats pull off their most famous party trick.

The star of the video is a caracal (Caracal caracal): Africa’s cat with the most hang-time. These nimble felines are expert bird hunters and are able to rocket themselves three metres into the air thanks to spring-loaded hind legs. But what goes up, must come down (and in the case of the caracal, it needs to come down without injury). 

At the crux of the cat conundrum is the confusion over exactly how a cat is able to turn itself around in mid-air without a surface of some kind to push against. The super slo-mo video provides an explanation. A flexible spine allows the caracal to move its top and bottom half in different directions at the same time. As the caracal falls to the ground, the front of its body moves clockwise, while the back moves counter-clockwise. The cat is effectively pushing against itself to nail its landing.  

To make the corkscrew technique even more effective, the nimble cat tucks in its front legs, forcing the upper half of its body to spin faster, like a pirouetting ice skater. As its spine twists, its back legs can swing around and the cat comes down feet-first and graceful as ever.

Unlike humans, the shoulders of cats are connected to the forelimbs by free-floating clavicle bones. Human collarbones are wedged firmly between shoulder blade and sternum at a fixed distance, while cats have a clavicle that is 'floating' in muscle, allowing for a lot more flexibility and movement.

This also explains your cat's ability to squeeze into tiny cardboard boxes without getting stuck. If the head can fit, the body can too. (We'd recommend that you avoid impersonating the caracal-twist on the trampoline, you just don’t have the anatomy for it.)

Unfortunately, not all species are gifted with the cat's graceful agility. Exhibit A: