Of all the fascinating creatures that share this planet with us, no other species has captured the human imagination quite like big cats. Most of us can usually recognize these majestic felines at first glance, but how much do you really know about them? From the regal lion and powerful tiger to the sleek cheetah and compact jaguar, each species has its own distinct qualities and quirks that make them stand out from the rest. Join us as we dive into the wonderful world of these giant kitties and discover some trivia that you can show off to your friends.
Cheetahs are known for being the fastest land mammal in the world, but how fast are they really? Well, these furry speedsters are able to go from 0-40 mph in a few strides and can hit 60 mph in under 3 seconds. That kind of explosive speed blows even the much-lauded Lamborghini Huracán Evo out of the water. Speaking of water, cheetahs are excellent at getting by on very little water, only requiring a drink once every 3 or 4 days. What they don’t seem very good at though, is endurance. These big cats, despite being incredibly fast, can only sustain their speed for 60 seconds, which means if they don’t catch their prey within that time, they are likely to miss that meal.
The cat with many names, the cougar actually holds a Guinness World Record for the animal species with the most names. In the English language alone, it has over 40 monikers, including mountain lion, puma, catamount, ghost cat, painter, shadow cat, panther and mountain screamer. Here’s a fun fact: cougars can’t roar. Instead, they make a chirp or yowling sound whenever they need to make some kind of vocal noise. However, they purr like engines!
Cougars are masters of the ambush, often hiding for hours on end until prey wanders within reach. These felines have an incredible leaping ability, being able to clear a 15-foot vertical jump and 40 feet in length with ease. Cougars are also not fussy eaters. While their staple diet is herbivores like deer, they have been known to even eat insects during food shortages.
Whoever said that cats don’t like water had obviously never seen a jaguar. These big cats love water and spend their days in their Central and South American habitats swimming, hunting and playing in the water. There are even historical accounts of jaguars using their tails as makeshift fishing lures.
Another unique feature of jaguars is their unique markings, called rosettes, which look like roses (hence the name) with an outer dark marking and a lighter spot within that darker marking.
The jaguar’s main claim to fame, however, is their incredibly powerful jaws. In fact, a jaguar’s jaw is second only to a hyena, and can bite down with over 2,000 pounds of force. This is enough to pierce turtle shells and easily crunch through bones.
If you’re looking for the best climbers in the family, you’re looking at them. Though leopards are the smallest of the big cat species, they are pound-for-pound the strongest. Their stocky, powerful build allows them to drag large prey up into trees to keep it away from scavengers. They are also opportunistic and will eat most things that come close enough to catch, including wild pigs, snakes, monkeys and even porcupines. There are nine subspecies of leopards, all of which are near-threatened, endangered or critically endangered. The Javan leopard has only an estimated 250 individuals left, and the Amur leopard has only perhaps 20 individuals left in the wild.
Where you’re unlikely to see that many of their cat cousins in big groups, lions are rarely not in a group. Members of a lion pride are typically very affectionate with each other, with plenty of cuddling and mutual grooming they are resting. The pride also works as a team to bring down prey, which is shared with the entire group. Male lions don’t often take part in hunts, but they earn their food by being the primary protectors of the pride.
As long as food is plentiful, a lioness will stay with her pride for her entire life. Male lions, on the other hand, are usually forced out of the pride by the dominant male once the male cubs reach maturity. It’s not rare to see a pair of teenage male lions roaming the savannah for another pride to take over.
Snow leopards live in the harsh cold of the barren mountains of Central and South Asia. They have evolved a unique body type to survive in these unwelcoming conditions, with shorter front legs than back legs. The front legs have larger paws, which allows them to land jumps and balance easier. Meanwhile, their powerful back legs allow them to jump up to 45 feet, which is essential to traverse the mountain ledges and rocky terrain while chasing down equally agile prey.
Snow leopards are also able to travel long distances in search of prey. The Snow Leopard Trust documented one cat traveling across 27 miles of open desert in one night. This same cat walked more than 93 miles in five days.
Last, but by no means least, tigers are the world’s largest cat species. In fact, the largest species of tiger, the Siberian tiger, weighs in at a whopping 400-675 pounds on a frame that is between 6-7.5 feet long! They also have an appetite to match their stature, being able to hoover up as much as 35-90 pounds of meat in a single sitting.
Tigers are typically loners, but have been known to travel in small groups, either as mates or if they are siblings.
There is much debate as to whether tigers can purr. Unlike most other felines, tigers seem to only be able to purr when exhaling, which has led some biologists to claim that the sounds tigers make don’t really count as purring.
Tigers are also highly endangered. While there were around 100,000 tigers throughout their range in the early 1900s, today there are fewer than 3,200 in the wild. With poaching for their coats, habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as retaliatory killing by villagers among the top threats, tigers are at serious risk of going extinct. Three subspecies of tiger have already gone extinct in the last 80 years alone.
Do you have any other interesting facts about big cats? Would you like to see a second part of this covering different animals? Please share your comments below!