If you’ve ever owned a cat, you probably know how interesting these intelligent twilight pets can be. Whether it’s their remarkable agility, their retractable claws, or even their unique eyes, cats are truly fascinating mammals. However, with so many years of domestication, the cats we keep as pets have become much more relaxed, small and obedient than they used to be. That being said, this is not the case in nature. Around the world, many distant relatives of your favorite pet are not only much fiercer, but also much heavier and larger than domestic cats. Here are the biggest cats in the world:
- Weight range – 90-265kg
- Length range – 2.5-3.9 meters
The Tiger (tiger panther) is the largest cat and one of the deadliest in the world. Known to reach a maximum length and weight of 1.17 meters and 387 kg respectively, tigers are huge animals. However, even with this much weight and stocky build, these cats are top predators in the wild and will hunt animals such as deer and wild boar. This is due to their impressive combination of sight, hearing, and smell, which allows them to stalk and hunt prey efficiently. This hunting is also necessary to maintain their large bodies, a testimonial that a tiger can consume more than 35kg of meat at a time.
Apart from their skillful hunting skills, tigers are also very fierce and very strong. This force prevails in its bite, which is six times stronger than a human’s and strong enough to bite through even tough fur and meat. Often living alone, these animals learn to fend for themselves from their mothers and are highly territorial. However, while they may be the embodiment of feline strength in nature, issues such as habitat loss and poaching (like many other big cats) have led them to join the Endangered classification on the Red List. from IUCN. Today, there are only about 4,000 tigers left alive, and more than 70% of them live in India.
- Weight range – 160-240kg
- Length range – 2.6-3.3m
Although the lions (Leo Panther) may not be the largest of the big cats, they are often considered the most majestic and well-known. A lion’s diet consists mainly of zebras, wildebeests, buffaloes, and even giraffes. Their ability to hunt prey much larger than themselves is due to the fact that lions tend to live in groups known as prides. So unlike many other cat species, they use numbers in combination with their immense strength to bring down large prey. Surprisingly though, lions are one of the few cat species in which females are the primary hunters.
In appearance, lions are one of the only big cats without spots or markings on their bodies. Instead, they have very muscular bodies covered entirely in golden-yellow fur. That said, rather than markings, a unique identifying factor separates lions from the rest of the big cats. You guessed it, the mane! Male lions will have a large, elongated ring of fur around their necks, which is often darker than the rest of their bodies. This mane is a very prestigious aspect of animals, as it is believed that the longer the mane, the more successful a lion has been in fighting others of its kind.
- Weight range – 56-125kg
- Length range – 1.6-2.1 meters
Holding the title of the largest native cat in North America, the jaguar (panthera onca) is one of the big 3 when it comes to the world of cats. With its name believed to have originated from the South American work for “fierce beast,” this is one animal you don’t want to mess with. Reaching lengths in the 2-meter range, these cats may be slightly shorter than their puma cousins, but they make up for this with an average of 10-20kg more body weight. This weight is distributed in an agile and athletic body thanks to which jaguars are able to climb trees, move stealthily and are great hunters. This works well with its interesting hunting style, which involves using its immense biting power to directly bite and crush the skull of the mammals it feeds on. Furthermore, jaguars are also one of the only species that actually enjoy getting into the water and will gladly swim to follow their prey or even just for fun.
These big cats are found primarily in the Americas and live in a variety of areas such as tropical forests, swamps, grasslands, and more. They generally tend to prefer living near bodies of water or rivers, as this gives them a great place to show off their swimming skills. Another interesting fact about jaguars is that they actually look quite similar to some leopards. This is because both animals share the black rosettes on their yellowish fur, often leading people to misidentify them. Fortunately, you can be sure that a big cat is a jaguar by looking inside these rosettes, as they will be full of black dots. All in all, the jaguar is an incredibly large big cat that uses its affinity for water and strong bite for a deadly combo.
- Weight range – 45-100kg
- Length range – 1.5-2.4m
Native to North and South America, the puma (puma concolor) goes by many names, such as cougar, cougar, or catamount. Known for being quite graceful, male pumas can reach weights of up to 125kg in some regions, making them quite large cats. They have a fairly wide range in appearance, with coat coloration ranging from a light shade of gray to reddish brown. Cougars also have dark ears, not seen on many other cats, along with a white underside and belly.
When it comes to their diet, these cats are classified as “hypercarnivores.” This means that the majority of a cougar’s diet consists of meat, which is often found in the form of other mammals such as moose, moose, ibex, etc. They can hunt such large prey that they tend to ambush the animals rather than pursue them. Essentially, a cougar will hide in trees, ledges, or any hidden area and will rapidly pounce on unsuspecting prey, often snapping its neck with a single bite. Thanks to this ability to find food, pumas are not on the endangered species list.
- Weight range – 30-80kg
- Length range – 1.6-2.3m
Slightly larger than the cheetah, though very different in many ways, is the fifth largest cat, the leopard (panthera pardus). Found in Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe, the leopard is one of the most widespread big cat species in the world. That being said, among all these species, the leopard is known for having one of the most unique and lethal hunting tactics. Thanks to a relatively light physique, leopards are very agile climbers. They often spend long hours high up in the trees, waiting for the right opportunity to attack their prey with fantastic agility. Also, while not as fast as their cheetah cousins, leopards are still quite fast on the ground, having been known to run at speeds of up to 60 km/h.
Another amazing thing about leopards is that while most will have a golden fur coat with black “rosette” markings, there is also a recessive trait in the animals, which can lead to melanistic leopards. These are all black leopards with stunning yellow eyes that are truly majestic. Also often considered “black panthers”, these leopards are famous in pop culture and are truly unique in the cat family.
- Weight range – 40-70kg
- Length range – 1.5-2.3m
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is probably one of the best-known species within the Felidae family of mammals, or “cats”. Although it is the sixth largest cat on Earth, this animal is quite slender and boasts a thin frame. Thanks to this unique construction, the cheetah holds the record for being the fastest land animal in the world. Capable of reaching top speeds of up to 110 km/h (faster than most roads allow), the cheetah is uniquely adapted for speed with a flexible spine, long legs, and specialized muscles that promote acceleration. This speed is highly beneficial in the wild, as without a bulky, strong build, it is their pace that allows them to efficiently track and capture prey.
Cheetahs can also be distinguished by their full body markings in the form of black spots that cover them from head to tail. One of the quickest ways to identify a cheetah is by looking at its eyes, which should have black tear strips all the way to the mouth, shielding its eyes from the glare of the sun. Apart from this, cheetahs have a golden yellow coat similar to many other big cats, such as the lion. The fur is also quite light, which benefits these animals as they live in the warmer savannah regions of Asia and Africa. However, in the face of habitat loss and poaching, these beautiful cats are slowly going extinct and are currently listed as a “vulnerable” species.
7. Snow leopard
- Weight range – 22-55kg
- Length range – 1.6-2.1 meters
A charismatic big cat found in 12 countries in Asia, the snow leopard (panthera uncia) is the seventh largest big cat in the world. With an average weight that can reach 55 kg and the longest known length of 2.5 meters, this cat is much bigger than your friendly house pet. However, the snow leopard is quite agile. As proof of their name, these big cats are often found in alpine and sub-alpine areas at altitudes above 3,000 meters. Here, cats use their well-adapted bodies to traverse mountainous regions like the Himalayas, tibetan plateauand many others.
As for its appearance, the snow leopard is known for its gray or white fur, which is covered with black spots. The bodies of these cats are quite robust and they have many unique adaptations that help them live in colder areas. For example, snow leopards are known for having large nostrils, which enhances their ability to inhale as much oxygen as possible at low-oxygen mountainous heights. Similarly, these animals have thick fur, a thick tail, and small ears, which work together to keep them cool.
All of the above wild big cats play an important ecological role in their habitats by keeping their prey populations in check. They are also valuable to humans, as big cat tourism is extremely popular. However, these cats also face the greatest threats from poaching and habitat loss, making them some of the most endangered species on Earth.