Wonder Contributors

We’d like to thank Esther from Texas and Delinda from Missouri for encouraging us to revisit today’s Wonder of the Day!

If you are ever lost in the jungle, there are a few animals you’d better watch out for. What are we talking about? Big cats, of course! And, no, we don’t mean fat, furry felines named Fluffy. We mean the really big cats.

In general, the animals referred to as big cats include four species: tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars. The term big cat is not a scientific term. Instead, it’s an informal term used to distinguish the larger species of cats from the smaller ones.

A few other species sometimes are included when talking about big cats. For example, some people include cougars, cheetahs, snow leopards and clouded leopards. Tigers are the largest of the big cat species, and the biggest cat of all is the Amur (Siberian) tiger. These impressive animals can weigh more than 750 pounds and grow longer than 10 feet! However, there is a new “super lion” recently found in Africa. Unlike most cats, the super lion likes swimming, has developed stronger pectoral muscles, and is 15% larger than other typical lions.

Big cats can be found in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Despite big differences in size, the various big cats are remarkably similar in how their bodies are structured and how they behave. The one exception to this rule is the cheetah, which is quite different from any of the other big or small cats.

Big cats are carnivores. This means they eat other animals. They’re also the only cats that can roar. Their ability to roar comes from a special larynx with cartilage walls that vibrate and produce sound when air passes through the larynx from the lungs.

Lions have the longest larynx, which means they can roar the loudest. Cheetahs and snow leopards can’t roar, despite having similar throat structures. For this reason, some people exclude them from the list of big cats.

Although big cats are known for being ferocious, they actually have more to fear from us than we do from them. All the big cats are endangered, mainly from habitat destruction and poaching. Today, many countries have established conservation areas to protect the remaining big cat populations.

Think you know a lot about big cats? Here are some interesting facts you may not know:

  • An adult lion’s roar is really loud! It can be heard up to five miles away.
  • Snow leopards can leap up to seven times their own body length in a single jump.
  • The tiger’s stripes are like a fingerprint. No two tigers have the same exact pattern.
  • The leopard is the strongest climber of the big cats. It can carry prey twice its weight up into a tree.
  • The jaguar takes its name from a Native American word that means “he who kills with one leap.”
  • Lions in the wild usually live 12-16 years. In captivity, they can live up to 25 years.
  • Tigers don’t avoid water like many cats and are excellent swimmers.
  • Lions are the only big cats that live in groups, which are called prides.

87 Join the Discussion

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  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We found it interesting that there is a big cat that can swim. Some of us thought that all cats hate the water.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about zucchini or broccoli because they are fun to say.

    Thank you for the wonders,
    Mrs. Tillman’s 4th graders.

    • Wohoo, we’re happy to hear our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Tillman’s class are here today! Thanks for sharing your comment about cats of all shapes and sizes– we think that cats cool off in the water while they swim, too!

      We can’t wait to find out what the veggie Wonder will be tomorrow! HOORAY! :)

  2. We thought today’s Wonder was the cat’s meow! We thought it was interesting to learn that jaguars and snow leopards are not always counted in this group because they can’t roar. It seemed strange to us to think about them not being able to roar. It was really neat to learn about the super lion that likes to swim.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about Veggie Tales, Peter Piper picking his peck of pickled peppers, rutabegas, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, peas on earth, beets, or bok choy.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Ski’s AM Class! We are sorry we didn’t respond to your comment sooner! We’re sorry about that! We really enjoyed WONDERing about big cats with you, too! We hope your day is SUPER and your smiles are as big as those super lions we learned about!

      Have a WONDERful day! :)

  3. We were wondering about white tigers… we’ve seen them in the circus, but where are they found in the wild? We were also wondering if we made a dichotomous key for the big cats, would the cats that swim fall into a different group? And why are lions “King of the Jungle?” Who made that decision?

    • YOWZA, we’re so excited our Wonder Friends from Ms. H’s 5th Grade Class are here today! You have been doing a great job of WONDERing on your own! We have seen White Bengal Tigers in circus acts, too, but it would be VERY difficult to find them in their natural habitat in India. These tigers are very rare– the white color comes from a recessive gene, and many tigers are poached and sold as exotic pets. We’d love to find out about the dichotomous key you’re working on… please let us know what you find out about cats that can swim! Have a terrific Tuesday! :)

  4. I knew it!!!! I knew it was about a cat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Sorry for so many ! marks. ;-)

    • Such WONDERful news, Nathan! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! We Wonder what your favorite part of today’s Wonder is?! :)

    • Great question, Hunter! We do a LOT of research to create Wonders for you to enjoy each and every day, but we still enjoy keeping the Wonders a surprise! It’s lots of fun to guess… and to find out if we guessed correctly! :)

  5. We also predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be about zucchinis. Tristan and Jasper think it will include a clip from Veggie Tales.

    As I type this some students now predict your wonder will be about the green giant.

    • Wow, there are so many great guesses from Mrs. Walker’s Fifth Grade– hooray for Wonder Friends like you! Thanks for sharing your SUPER comment- we can’t wait for tomorrow’s Wonder! :)

    • Cats of all kinds are SUPER fun to Wonder about, especially when we can Wonder about anything from house cats to big cats that roam the jungle! :)

    • Hip-hip-hooray, our Wonder Friends from Mrs. Bones’ 3rd grade class are here today! We LOVE all your guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day®… thanks for sharing your comment! :)

  6. We thought today’s wonder was purrrrrrrrrrfect. We liked learning about the interesting facts at the end of the article. We thought it was neat to learn about the super lion. It reminded us of Super Monkey…an app some of us like. We are wondering about the scientific name for this Super Lion.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about Veggie Tales, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoflower, potato/potahto, or celery.

    • YIPPEE, we’re glad you enjoyed today’s Wonder, Mrs. Ski’s PM Class! We’re glad you had fun WONDERing about new types of cats, including the Super Lion. The Super Lion, to our knowledge, doesn’t have a scientific name, but the lion’s official name is Panthera leo! :)

      Thanks for sharing your super guesses for tomorrow’s tasty Wonder! :)

  7. We loved today’s wonder! Our class mascot is the Tiger! Did you know if you breed a tiger with a lion you can get a liger? Tigers aren’t seen in groups but on rare occasions when they are they are called a streak. Kailyn, in our class, loves all cats!
    We wonder if the number of the wonder is how many wonders Wonderopolis has wondered about? Is there a wonder for every day, even Christmas and New Year’s? When did Wonderopolis begin their wonderful wondering? Thanks and Happy Holidays! The Tiger Class!

    • Hello Mrs. Thomas’ Tigers! We’re glad you visited Wonderopolis today– what a SUPER coincidence! Thanks for sharing even more WONDERful information about tigers with us, too!

      You’re on the right track– we have 807 Wonders at Wonderopolis! AMAZING!! We have a new Wonder each and every day… because you can Wonder anytime, even on holidays! We celebrated our second birthday on October 4, 2012! Thanks for joining the fun today, Wonder Friends! Happy Holidays to you, too! :)

    • Wow, how cool, JR! We bet it’s fun to visit your dad at work! We Wonder if you help him take care of any of the animals at the zoo? :)

    • WOW, we bet you take excellent care of those kitty cats, Gina M! We’re glad they’re not too big– they might have trouble fitting inside your house! :)

    • Great quetion, Levi! Big cats, like those we WONDERed about today, are excellent protectors. They defend their territory, their young, and themselves from predators. They are not vicious in nature, but if they feel threatened, they are very good at protecting themselves and those they care about. :)

    • We think it’s funny when small animals think they’re big, too, Michaela! However, that’s also a way of protecting and defending themselves when they encounter other animals! :)

    • Hey there, Carsen1234567890! Check out the excerpt from today’s Wonder:

      “Tigers are the largest of the big cat species, and the biggest cat of all is the Amur (Siberian) tiger. These impressive animals can weigh more than 750 pounds and grow longer than 10 feet!” :)

  8. Hey wonderopolis my cat is as big as a lion!
    How big is yours?

    • Hi there, Momo! We don’t have a cat here at Wonderopolis, but we sure enjoyed WONDERing about all kinds of cats today! Your cat sounds very large… do you have a pet lion?! :)

    • We think you’d have to let the tiger or lion live in your room, Danielle! We bet it needs a lot of space to roam… perhaps it can live (safely) in your backyard? :)

  9. Hi I already knew that the cats love to swim but not pet cats they hate the water they prefer to lick by themselves anyways I was so upset today because I looked at the website about hamster and it was soo sad!

    Kezia/Monkey Geek


    • Hey there, Kezia/Monkey Geek! We’re glad you have been WONDERing with us about cats of all sizes! We hope you’re having a terrific day! :)

  10. Today’s wonder was really cool! I liked the video a lot. The part where that leopard was playing with a pumpkin was funny, also, that lion sounded weird. You would expect it to roar fiercely, but it sounded more like a bark. :) Thank you for today’s wonder! It was cool! ;)

    • YOWZA, we are so happy you shared even MORE information with us, Joey! Thanks for WONDERing with us, we hope to see you soon! :)

  11. Dear Wonderopolis

    Have you ever heard of a caracal? My class is doing a report and I am
    doing a caracal it is a cat. I never knew the jaguar was named after the
    Indian term “he who kills with one leap”.

    from Max

    • WOW, how cool that you’ve been WONDERing about different cats, like the caracal, Max! We’re glad you shared your comment with us, especially since you’re doing a report about a certain type of cat. We love to hear that you learned something new– thanks for stopping by today! :)

  12. Hi I loved this video about the big cat. And I have 1 question about at least how big do most cats grow to??????????????????????

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Kathy! We’re so glad you enjoyed our meow-riffic Wonder today! We bet you can do some WONDERing of your own about the average size of a cat! There are lots of them– house cats, jungle cats– and they can be very different! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

    • We agree with you, Jacob! Those cats sure are large! We’re glad you’ve been WONDERing about the different types of cats that exist today! What a great Wonder! :)

  13. I love this video because I love big and small cats I think it was funny when one of the big cats flipped out when it was playing with the pumpkin.

    • We’re so happy to hear that this Wonder made you smile, Ilaana! Thanks for sharing your favorite part of the Wonder video! We hope you have a SUPER day! :)

  14. The LIGER is the biggest big cat. _____
    It is a tiger and a lion mixed together. This happens when an tiger and a lion breed their baby is an liger.

    Got info on animal planet and a book named big cats.

    • Hey there, Luna! Thank you for sharing what you learned about the liger! We are so glad you’ve been WONDERing with us and you shared some awesome and important information! WOOHOO for you, Luna! You’re great! :)

  15. I love cats. Lately, I have learned a lot about them. Did you know that the Cheetah is not the fastest animal on earth (it is the parragrin falcon.) at over 100 mph.

  16. How can cats get that BIG? For example we read that a tiger is 750 pounds and 10 feet long! How much does a cheetah weigh? Why are some cats endangered?

    P.S are ligers reel? A liger is half tiger half lion. Please send me a link about it!

    Thanks for letting us learn more about tigers,lions and cheetahs :):):)

  17. Wow! We didn’t know that lions roars can be heard 5 miles away. We didn’t know that big cats can be funny! We also didn’t know that jaguars can kill its prey in one leap. We never knew that snow leopards liked pumpkins. We are wondering why cheetahs and snow leopards can’t roar? By the way, Tigers are awesome!

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How big do cats get?
  • What species are considered big cats?
  • What makes big cats unique?

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In National Geographic Education’s Big Cats’ Big Threats activity, children read the National Geographic article, “Big Cats’ Big Problem,” and answer questions about the threats to big cat populations.

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