‘Big cats’ is a term used to refer to the larger members of the feline family. Although this term distinguishes these larger felines from the smaller ones, it is not a recognized biological classification. There are different genera listed under big cats. All big cats fall under the category of “wild cats” but not all wild cats are big cats. As a matter of fact, there are only 4 types of big cats, with a few other close and oft included members.
This is the largest and heaviest big cat. It is also the third largest land carnivore; the only other two carnivores larger than the tiger are the polar bear and the brown bear. Tigers can be recognized by their dark stripes on orange fur. Tigers have the longest canines amongst all felines. They can live for up to 26 years. Tigers are usually found in Asia.
In terms of size, the lion comes in second after the tiger. If you wish to see lions in the wild you should make a point of visiting sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In the wild, the lion has a life span of about 14 years; it can live for up to 20 years in captivity. Lions prefer to inhabit savannas and grasslands, though some have been found to live in bush and forest too. Of the big cats that can roar, the lion’s roar is the loudest. Male lions can be recognized by their manes.
The jaguar comes in third after the tiger and the lion in terms of size. Jaguars prefer dense rainforests such as can be found in the Amazon. You may have a hard time differentiating the jaguar from the leopard due to their similar spotted appearance. However, jaguars are larger and behave somewhat similar to the tigers. For instance, both enjoy swimming. Unlike the lion and the tiger which are social, the jaguar is a solitary big cat. It stalks and hunts down its prey alone. Jaguars can be found in the Americas.
This is the smallest member of the big cat family. Leopards were once distributed across many parts of Asia and Africa. However, there has been a reduction in their number due to the very factors that endanger wildlife all over the world i.e. loss of habitat and hunting. Currently, leopard are mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa. The leopard has legs that are shorter than the legs of the other big cats. It also has a longer body and a large skull.
You can tell the difference between a leopard and a jaguar in that the spots on the leopard’s body are smaller and more densely packed. The jaguar’s rosettes also have central spots unlike the leopard’s.
Some Interesting Facts About Big Cats
- Black panthers are leopards, jaguars or cougars that have melanism. Melanism is the opposite of albinism. That is, the presence of dark pigmentation in the skin. These cats with Albinism are called “white panthers.”
- Tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars are the only members of the genus Panthera that can roar.
- All big cats are apex predators, that is, they are on the top of the food chain.
- Although most people will be use the term big cat to refer to the four aforementioned above, some classification includes the cheetah and even the cougar. The cheetah belongs to a different genus. It is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 120kph or 75mph.