Lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars are the only cats that can roar. The sound is produced by a specialised larynx and flexible hyoid bone and can be used to stake territory, communicate generally or express anger. The four roaring cats are some of the world's most photogenic animals, whose lethal stealth and grace has inspired many film-makers. They feature in many of the classic BBC series from Life of Mammals and Wild Africa to Big Cat Diary and Planet Earth, with such video gems as a night-time lion hunt and glimpses of the world's rarest big cat, the Amur leopard.
Did you know?
There are only four species of cat that can roar. This is because they have a specialised larynx and a flexible hyoid bone.
Scientific name: Panthera
The shading illustrates the diversity of this group - the darker the colour the greater the number of species. Data provided by WWF's Wildfinder.
Panthera is a genus of the family Felidae (cats), which contains four well-known living species: the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard. The genus comprises about half of the Pantherinae subfamily, the big cats. The word "panther", while technically referring to all members of the genus, is commonly used to specifically designate the black panther, a melanistic jaguar or leopard, and the Florida panther, a subspecies of cougar (Puma concolor coryi).
Only the four Panthera cat species have the anatomical structure that enables them to roar. The primary reason for this was formerly assumed to be the incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone. However, new studies show the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx. The snow leopard, Uncia uncia, which is sometimes included within Panthera, does not roar. Although it has an incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone, it lacks the special morphology of the larynx.
However, due to more recent genetic studies, the snow leopard is now becoming more generally considered as Panthera uncia and is presently classified as such by IUCN.
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