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 within the Felidae family that was named and first described by the German naturalist Oken in 1816. The British taxonomist Pocock revised the classification of this genus in 1916 as comprising the species tiger, lion, jaguar and leopard on the basis of cranial features. Results of genetic analysis indicate that the snow leopard also belongs to the Panthera, a classification that was accepted by IUCN assessors in 2008.
Only the tiger, lion, leopard and jaguar 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 does not roar. Although it has an incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone, it lacks the special morphology of the larynx.
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