The Felidae Family of Order Carnivora comprises highly adapted predators. Sharp, scissor-like cheek-teeth and enlarged temporal and masseter (jaw) muscles allow felids to quickly dispatch prey and to shear meat. Their digitigrade posture, binocular vision, and sharp, strongly curved claws aid in predation. Felids are obligate carnivores meaning they can only digest meat, although they may consume grass and plants for assistance with digestive ailments such as hairballs or sore gums.
Felids are also generally recognized by their shortened skull, large orbits or eye sockets, and retractable claws. While felids have improved vision and olfactory capabilities compared to humans, felids rely more heavily on vision than olfaction as possible.
Some cats are referred to as “Big Cats.” This classification is actually determined by the ability to roar, not actual size. Big Cats include tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards. These felids have ligamentous hyoid apparatuses – the u-shaped structure that supports the tongue and vocal folds is soft and can stretch to create the roar. Non-Big Cats have completely ossified hyoids (completely bone), preventing roaring.
It is inaccurate to state “Big Cats cannot purr” as purr production is poorly understood. Though rare, “purring” has been reported by researchers in neonate Big Cats as well as in females prior to and during copulation. One comparative study demonstrated that it is technically possible for Big Cats to purr, based upon current definitions.
As of this writing, there are 36 species of Felidae in the world, seven of which are considered North American. Most of these species are generally solitary. The notable exceptions are lions and cheetahs. Lions famously live in prides and have unique social structures. Cheetahs exhibit both solitary and social tendencies.
Species housed at Animal Ark:
Bobcat, Lynx rufus
Canada lynx, Lynx canadensis
Mountain lion, Puma concolor
Jaguar, Panthera onca
Cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus
Tiger, Panthera tigris (Animal Ark does not currently have a tiger, but has housed tigers in the past)