Whisker widths

By: 
Lisa Ingebrand, lrnews@frontiernet.net

It’s science-fair season, and my fifth grader, Ellen, is testing if the width of a cat’s whiskers truly alerts them to whether or not they will fit through a hole.

Her project is titled: Whisker widths.

Fortunately, she has enough at-home test subjects with our three felines, Rocky, Honey, and Penelope.

Unfortunately, Ellen is a procrastinator, and cats don’t tend to cooperate.

Big sister Anna and I had to hold down each of the cats while Ellen took a ruler to their faces and then diligently recorded the measurements. It wasn’t pretty, but my 10-year-old measured the smallest set of whiskers to be 5.5” wide. The largest spans 7.5”.

Our young scientist then decided on hole sizes: 4” x 4,” 5” x 5”, 6” x 6”, and 7” x 7”.

Grandpa cut the holes in the board.

It was decided that the board would block the door to our main floor bathroom and a cat would be placed in the bathroom and enticed out, through the test hole while Ellen recorded each trial. Canned cat food would be used to spark the kitties’ interest.

It seemed simple, really it did.

We’re currently a week and a half into this project and not all of the cats/holes have been properly tested. It’s not for a lack of effort. We’ve had all hands on deck for this project.

My job was cat lurer. I was to catch the cat who was to be tested. Of course, it started off well. No cat suspected me of carrying them off to the test site. But, then, they figured it out, and avoided me at all costs. No amount of food or sweet calls of “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” would entice them close enough for me to grab.

Thirteen-year-old Anna was supposed to be the “warden.” Her goal was to keep the cat in question inside the bathroom until Ellen had the food dish set (on the other side of the board) and was ready to record… Let’s just say cats are speedy creatures, and my sweet Anna is not warden material.

John, my husband, donned his welding gloves before kindly forcing our eldest— and grouchiest—cat, Rocky, to participate. He got Rocky into the bathroom, but Rocky refused to go/be pushed through a hole.

I promise that no cat was injured during this experiment. Our bathroom door, however, suffered a huge gouge from the board tumbling over, and we humans did shed blood.

Only Honey, our big orange boy, who is very motivated by food, happily participated in the experiment. He and his 7.5” whiskers made it through the three biggest holes, but he got stuck in the 5” x 5” hole.

Eighteen-year-old Rocky still refuses to participate, and Penelope, our sassy tortoiseshell, keeps jumping over the darn board (and everything we erect to deter her from doing so) instead of going through the darn holes.

It has been a trying experience/experiment for all of us, and I’m pretty sure that John or I will need to edit Ellen’s recordings… Her teachers don’t need to hear all of our colorful commentary.

However, if I were a teacher, I might give extra credit for the hilarity of it all (and Ellen might really need that extra credit on this project). It might be worth a try at this point.

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