Big Cats

Big cats include lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and cheetahs, and they are some of the most highly specialised predators in the world!

Lions
A tiger carrying her cub

A tiger carrying her cub

Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae

Overview

Big cat is used to differentiate larger cats, like lions and tigers, from their smaller cousins, like wild cats and domestic cats. Some define big cats as species that can roar or are categorised under the genus Panthera, such as lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. However, some also include the cheetah, snow leopard, clouded leopard and cougar.

Vocalisation

Cats can either roar or purr but they tend not to be able to do both. The four main big cats, the lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar, have specially adapted larynxes which enable them to roar; the lion has the longest larynx, which means it can produce by far the loudest roar.

Size

The tiger is the largest feline in the world. Male tigers can weigh in at a hefty 200-320kg (440-770lb) while females tip the scales at between 120-181 kg (265-400lb). The largest big cat in the world, the magnificent Amur (or Siberian) tiger, weighs the same as one hundred domestic moggies!

Cheetahs on the look-out

Cheetahs on the look-out

Social

The lion is the only big cat that lives in a large group. These prides can consist of up to 40 lions and are mainly made up of females. When a male reaches maturity it tends to move away from the pride and live on its own or in small bachelor groups. Other big cats, such as the cheetah, tend to live alone, however, they can also be seen together when they need to mate or young brothers can sometimes form a coalition.

Quick Facts

  • The cheetah is the fastest land animal and can reach speeds of up to 70 mph.
  • A liger is a cross between a male lion and a female tiger.
  • The offspring of a male tiger and a female lion is known as a tiglon.
  • Physically ligers tend to look more like lions, while larger ligers look more like tigers.
  • Black panthers are just jaguars with genetic melanism making them black.
  • Leopards can drag carcasses that weigh three times their body weight for long distance or up in to a tree.