How Cats Purr

Cats are mysterious beings because they’re tiny and cute, but when they purr, they produce very low-frequency sounds that can usually only be made by a big animal like an elephant.

Originally, scientists thought cats might be able to purr because they are actively contracting their vocal cords around 30 times a second, but new research suggests a different theory. And they proved this theory in the most insane way. 

So, researchers in Austria talked to 8 cat owners whose cats were going to be put down due to terminal illness and were like “can we uhhh, have their throats? For science?” And the owners said yes, so the researchers cut out the cat throats and flash-froze them like shrimp. 

Then they thawed the throats one by one in the lab and hooked them up to a machine that blew air through the disembodied throats. That let the researchers measure the various frequencies of sound the throats could make fully through vibration rather than through any special muscle contraction. 

Turns out cats can purr so low because they have thick little pads on their vocal cords that allow for lower frequencies. No special muscle contractions required. So tldr; cats are literally just built different.

Reference: “Domestic cat larynges can produce purring frequencies without neural input” Herbst et al. Current Biology 2023.

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