What Does the Term “Big Cat” Really Mean?
by Santiago Rosero Perea, age 11
The term big cat is used to describe the largest wild cats in the world.
Although most cats are similar in behavior and body structure, they vary in size and they live in different places around the world.
The big cats are members of Genus Panthera, which consists of the tiger, lion, jaguar, leopard, cheetah, and cougar. Cheetahs and cougars cannot roar like the other four big cats, but scientists still consider them part of the big cats group.
The tiger can be found in Asia and the lion is only found in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of India. The lion has become extinct in Southeast Europe and in the Middle East.
Jaguars are “New World” big cats. They live in the Americas. Jaguars usually live in Mexico, Central America, Northern Argentina and the Amazon region.
Leopards live in Asia and Africa. Snow leopards live in the mountains of South and Central Asia. Cheetahs, the fastest animals on Earth, live in sub-Saharan Africa and often overlap with leopards.
The puma also lives in the Americas. And like the jaguar, it can live in many places in both North and South America. The puma goes by many names. It is also called cougar, panther, or mountain lion. Cougars can live and hunt in almost any climate. Some cougars have been spotted in Wisconsin.
The cheetah is the smallest of all the big cats, with an average weight of 99 pounds. Following the cheetah in size, the snow leopard, leopard, and puma have average weights of 120-190 pounds. The three largest big cats are the jaguar, lion, and tiger. The jaguar weighs over 220 pounds and is followed by the lion, which usually weighs about 495 pounds. Astonishingly, the tiger is the heaviest and largest big cat species, with an average weight of over 670 pounds.
When researching these felines, it’s easy to compare them to the common house cat. Their behaviors are similar and so are their personalities. However, the big cats are physically different from small cats: they have sharper and longer claws and teeth, making them more dangerous.
The traits of big cats are what make them some of the most-deadly and most-interesting creatures on Planet Earth.
[Sources: National Geographic Kids; discoverwildlife.com]