As It Happens

BREAKING: You've probably been miscalculating the surface area of your pet

Researchers with Georgia Tech University have turned everything we thought we know about our pets' surface areas upside-down.
Researchers with Georgia Institute of Technology have calculated the surface area of a cat to equal the size of a ping-pong table. (Georgia Institute of Technology/Fan The Fire Magazine)

You're out in the yard, lounging with your cat, and someone walking by says, "Aw! So cute!" You nod and force a smile, because you know what's coming. That same, clichéd question. And sure enough, the person asks, "What's her surface area?"    

Of course, it's not just cats. You chinchilla owners are nodding right now too. Same for those of you with pet sea otters. Every single time someone sees your pets, it's always, "That's adorable. What's its surface area?"

You're polite about it. You tell your guest the surface area of the cat, Dr. Fluffles — like you haven't said it a thousand times before. But weird news: you're wrong. We're ALL WRONG.

We're all so accustomed to our stock answers that we missed a key thing: all that hair. Now, researchers with Georgia Tech University have turned everything we thought we know about our pets' surface areas upside-down.

They weren't really trying to do that. They were trying to determine how various species of animals and insects are able to clean themselves. The idea was to "inspire energy-efficient cleaning strategies in synthetic systems." But whatever, let's get to the surface area thing.

According to the researchers, we have to include hair in an animal's surface area. Which is — get this —100 times greater than just the surface area of its skin. They say that when you include all that hair, a chinchilla's surface area is about the same as that of an SUV. A sea otter has the same surface area as a hockey rink.

(Georgia Institute of Technology)

And Dr. Fluffles the cat? Including hair, a surface area the size of a ping-pong table.

So now you have a different answer for that boring question. "Ping-pong table," you can say. Because your standard answer was off by a hair's breadth.

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