Cats do a lot of adorably bizarre things that simultaneously enrich our lives and wreak havoc upon them. But perhaps their strangest behavior is a phenomenon the internet has correctly described as “blepping.” An animal behavior consultant tells Inverse there’s actual science behind it.
What is a blep, you say? While you might not know the origin of the word — because, well, no one does — you definitely know what it looks like. It’s when a cat (or dog) sticks his or her tongue out, then forgets to put it away. The results are pretty phenomenal:
Animal behavior consultant and cat expert Amy Shojai says blepping is actually connected with the way cats investigate their surroundings.
“Cats use all senses to explore the world, including taste,” she tells Inverse. “The Flehmen response (mouth agape) collects pheromones on the tongue and transfers them to the roof of the mouth to an internal ‘scent mechanism’ (vomeronasal organ) to detect sexual status or other info about other cats. So ‘forgetting’ to retract the tongue in these instances might be due to fascination or distraction while deciphering these kitty “Post-It” notes!”
Basically, blepping is the face cats make when they’re being floofy detectives. That is literal science, and I will accept no arguments.
“When a cat displays the Flehman response, she’s basically analyzing a particular scent,” Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified cat behavior consultant, confirms to PetMD. “It’s used primarily for analyzing pheromones from other cats, especially the ones found in urine, but a cat will use it for other interesting scents that require more thorough investigation, too.”
Since cats are furry geniuses, they can learn over time that blepping makes their humans happy.
“If people reward the accidental behavior with petting, sweet talk, and treats, that predicts a repeat of the behavior in the future,” Shojai tells Inverse. “Cats learn really quickly what works to get what they want!”
Seems like a win-win to us: cats get treats, and we get this:
In short, the true definition of a blep is “that thing cats do when they’re trying to investigate a new scent and become suddenly distracted, leaving their tongues out.” You’re welcome, internet.
You’ve read that, now watch this: “The Scientific Reason Cats Sit Like Loaves Of Bread”