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A cat’s versatility in the wild stems partly from its multi-functional integumentary system, thus giving it the tools necessary to survive as an efficient predator. This external system of organs and tissues includes a feline’s outer covering, such as fur, in addition to derivative structures like claws and whiskers.
A cat’s integumentary system serves many crucial functions. It insulates and cools the body to maintain a constant body temperature. This system creates a barrier to protect internal structures from damage. Finally, a cat’s integuments can help it conceal itself within its environment, whether during pursuit of prey or for safety from predators.
Cat fur efficiently regulates body temperature and helps the cat to blend into its surroundings. Cats actually have two coats of fur: a short, inner coat that insulates and a longer, outer coat that keeps the cat dry. A wild cat like the cheetah possesses fur that creates camouflage to aid the cat in its hunting activities.
A cat’s claws are its tools during the hunt. Most of the time, the claws remain retracted, meaning they are not visible since the cat can envelop them with skin and fur; cheetahs are the only cats that cannot retract their claws. Claws are razor-sharp, able to slice and rip open prey or scratch at an adversary. Cats keep their claws sharp by retracting them when not in use and by occasionally filing them on coarse objects such as the bark of a tree.
A cat’s whiskers serve a surprising variety of functions. Whiskers help the cat gauge the distance between two objects before deciding to squeeze between them. These facial hairs also can detect small disturbances in the air. Cats navigate more freely in the dark with the aid of their whiskers.
- cat image by Lori Boggetti from Fotolia.com