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.