Kittens really are adorable. Beneath all that cuteness, however, your little feline friend is a highly evolved predator. She may not be living alongside her big cat cousins, but she’s hardwired just the same, with hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste and movement all perfectly adapted to life as a hunter.
At the low end of the scale, your kitten’s hearing is similar to yours. But with high-pitched sounds, her hearing is a lot sharper, extending 1.6 octaves above your range. It’s this ultra-sensitive hearing that allows your kitten to pick up squeaks from tiny rodents. It also helps her stay hidden from her prey right up until the moment she attacks.
Your kitten’s ears have a huge range of movement too. She can swivel her outer ear flaps – called pinnae – one at a time, or together. That means she can pinpoint her prey through 360°.
In the wild, big cats prefer to hunt at dawn and dusk. Your kitten is no different. To prove it, take a look at your kitten’s eyes in the early evening. You’ll see that her pupils are much bigger, letting in lots of light.
There’s also a special layer of cells – called the tapetum – on the backs of your kitten’s eyes. This reflects in even more light, and gives your kitten those characteristic night-time shining eyes. Your kitten’s very sharp eyesight is also great at picking up the tiniest movements – ideal for hunting small creatures that move fast.
When she’s first investigating something new, you’ll probably notice your kitten checking things out with her paw. Her pads aren’t very sensitive to temperature, but they are extremely sensitive to vibration.
After that, your kitten will use the coarse hairs on her upper lip, around her chin and above her eyes to help her gather more information. And let’s not forget those all-important whiskers! These incredibly sensitive and super-mobile sensors are just like the ones her big cat cousins use for efficiently catching and killing prey in the wild.
Smell and taste
In the wild, big cats use a complex system of scent trails to communicate with each other. These trails help them establish social bonds, mark their territory, and avoid potential threats. Your little feline friend uses scent in exactly the same way.
Your kitten’s sense of smell is about ten times stronger than yours. She even has a special scent organ in the roof of her mouth, called the Jacobson’s organ. This picks up lots of complex chemical messages which help her make sense of her world.
Also like her big cat cousins, your kitten has a tongue that’s super-sensitive to both temperature and taste. In the wild, this amazing sensitivity would help her decide what’s safe to eat. So, if your kitten refuses that tasty treat you bought her, she’s probably just being cautious about something she hasn’t encountered before!
You’ve probably noticed that your inquisitive little kitten is a born gymnast. She has amazing coordination, she can jump from a standing start, she can climb almost anything and can balance in the most precarious places. These astonishing abilities make her very entertaining to watch, but they’re also what makes her a brilliant hunter. Satisfy your kitten’s hunting instincts by playing with her a lot. And don’t forget to keep stroking her – that way she’ll know you’re impressed with her many talents!