When imagining Lions, visions of the king of the Savanna come to mind. However, a gentle cat’s purr isn’t the noise we associate with Lions, as we instantly think of a majestic roar.
Because Lions can roar, they cannot purr. Purring is produced as one continuous sound by vibrating the larynx and hyoid bone in the throat. Since these bones are delicate and fully ossified (full bone) in smaller cats like domestic cats, cougars, and ocelots, they resonate in the chest and produce the purring sound associated with happy cats as they breathe in and out.
Lions, on the other hand, as well as other big cats like Tigers, Jaguars, and Leopards, have a more flexible hyoid bone and an elastic ligament that connects the hyoid bone to the skull. This affords the larynx flexibility, which in turn creates not a purr but a mighty roar.
This roar can be so loud it is almost painful to humans, and in nearly every other big cat of the Panthera genus, roaring is a means to an end.
Are There Any Big Cats That Can Purr?
There is only one big cat that can purr but can’t roar: the Cheetah. Cheetahs are in the same group as Lions. However, because of several differences, they are placed into a genus of their own: Acinonyx. They can purr and have semi-retractable claws, unlike all other felids, which have fully retractable claws.
Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, and Leopards are all part of the genus Panthera; they can all roar but can’t purr. They also have pupils that cannot transition into slits. The housecat, Felis Catus, cannot roar but can purr and has pupils that narrow into slits.
There aren’t any cats of the Panthera family that can truly purr, but they do make rolling growls that can sound similar. They can also convey feelings of happiness with rumbling noises and semi-meows, and that is also true of Lions.
Why Can’t a Lion Purr?
Lions evolved differently from house cats and other cats in the Felidae family. This would explain why Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, and Leopards have different biological traits than house cats and Cheetahs.
For example, how the hyoid bone evolved and the changes in thickness and placement affected how the cats use it. The hyoid bone in big cats such as Lions is flexible and accompanied by ligaments to allow it to flex and produce a roar, but the vibration necessary for a purr can’t be produced. House cats, by contrast, have much smaller hyoid bones that are fully solid, allowing them to make the resonating purr we all know and love.
Lions are mighty creatures. While they can’t purr like pet cats, they can create a wide range of impressive and expressive vocalizations, including chuffs, coughs, growls, and barks. A Lion’s roar sounds more like a big dog howling than you may think, and its intensity is enough to keep rivals at bay.
Featured Image Credit: Aboeka, Pixabay