What is the biggest cat that can purr and meow (infographic)?

There is only one large wild cat species that can both purr and meow, and of course, produce a wide range of sounds both for short range and long-range communication and this is the well-known puma a.k.a. the mountain lion or cougar. This is the cat with the most names and the cat with the biggest distribution of all the wild cat species other than the leopard as I recall.

Puma vocalisations listed in an infographic
Puma vocalisations listed in an infographic by MikeB.

The Puma is a ‘little-big cat’ really, and they are not part of the famous four: the big cats which are classically described as being the leopard, jaguar, lion and tiger. But they are a large wild cat as everybody knows. Although I believe that their size is often exaggerated out of fear. Some adult females are quite small, the size of a 10-year-old boy.

You see them as pets to people who like to live with exotic companion animals. This strongly indicates that they have what I would describe as ‘retiring’ characters. I mean that they can be quite shy and unaggressive, a bit like the cheetah. You will also see pet cheetahs particularly in the Middle East which is not something one wants to see when considering conservation.

The cheetah is also a large wild cat species but slightly smaller than the Puma in the list of sizes which you can see by clicking on this link.

Some notes about the mountain lion’s vocalisations

I have listed the vocalisations in the infographic. Here is a little bit of extra information. The first point that might be worth making is that, as you can see in the video below, the puma’s version of the purr and meow are somewhat different to that of the domestic cat. This is predictable bearing in mind it’s a much bigger animal which affects the voice box and it’s wild 😎. And there will be a range of meow sounds which is what we expect in the domestic cats as well.

Puma calls can be divided into close range, medium-range and long-range. Clearly, the meow and purr are close-range calls designed to communicate with another cat feet or yards away.

Another close-range call is the ‘wah-wah’ which sounds very peculiar. It is only found in the puma, Eurasian lynx, Bobcat, jaguarundi caracal and both species of golden cats and possibly the serval.

Pumas do not roar. This ability is reserved for the famous four: the “big cats” which is why they are called big cats. But their long-range call is the famous scream which you can hear at night sometimes in those wild American places. It is so evocative of America for me. It is not that often heard.

Authors have described it as “like the shriek of a vampire woman” and “unearthly”. One expert described the puma scream as “much like the roar of an African lion in a zoo, although of a higher pitch and shorter duration.”


And, Vernon Bailey, chief field naturalist of the US biological services, described the scream as follows:

Puma scream described in words
Puma scream described in words. Image: MikeB


From Big Cat Rescue thanks to Carole Baskin and her team.

Below are some more articles on the puma:

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The puma is a big little cat

Despite the puma being a physically large cat and the fact that their size is frequently overestimated, they are not classified, scientifically, as one of the big cats. The phrase “big cat” is very specific in this instance. It does not simply describe a large wild cat but a group of cats that can roar namely: the jaguar, leopard, lion and tiger.

Puma and collie size comparison
Puma and collie size comparison. Illustration: PoC.

RELATED: Surplus killing by pumas

For many years there was an argument between scientists on the topic as to whether the puma is a member of the big cat group. The argument subsided when molecular geneticists started to study felid ‘phylogeny’. Phylogeny is the history of the evolution of a species or group of animals with reference to their lines of descent and the relationships that they have among a broad group of other animals.

This resulted in the debate concluding with the admission that the puma is part of the small cat group (Felis).

The reasons included the following:

  1. the shape of the puma’s rhinarium (nose);
  2. the morphology of its feet;
  3. the shape of its pupils;
  4. the short, wide skull and short face (the distance from the eyes to the end of the nose), all of which are similar to those of small cats.

Interestingly, this conclusion, based on the first three items above, was made by R.I. Pocock in 1917 in his article: The classification of existing Felidae according to Mel and Fiona Sunquist who wrote the book Wild Cats of the World.

And perhaps the most important difference between the puma and the big cats is that the puma does not roar. In fact, it purrs like a smaller cat.

The puma, in some respects, looks like a cheetah in that they both have small, rounded heads, slim, lanky bodies and moderately long limbs. And they are similar in their character which is described as retiring and gentle, eager to flee rather than fight. Both species rarely confront people.

Tesla autopilot avoids puma running across road in Montana
Tesla autopilot avoids puma running across road in Montana

Because the jaguar no longer lives in North America, the puma is the largest native North American cat. But, as mentioned, their size is frequently overestimated. Perhaps this originates in the people who like to hunt pumas who might be exaggerating and therefore disseminating a distortion about the size of this large cat.

There have been some size record holders such as one that was claimed to be 170 kg as reported in the Sports Afield Hunting Annual (What is the largest mountain lion on record?. It was killed in 1958 in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Another large specimen was certified to the US Biology Survey to weigh 125 kg in 1917. It’s intestines had been removed. It had been killed by a ‘predator hunter’ (Fiona Sunquist).

My reference book indicates that females can weigh 35 kg or less. One in Florida weighed 22.7 kg for example. And a female puma in Brazil weighed 25 kg. As for the males, the average weight of 11 males in Canada was 71 kg. The average weight of 10 males in New Mexico was 58.9 kg.

A 10-year-old boy weighs about 32 kg, about the same size as a female puma. I weigh about 73 kg. The average weight of a man who is 5’7″ tall is around 72 kg. So, we can argue that male pumas are about the same weight as a man of moderate stature, let’s put it that way.

The weight and size of pumas varies considerably over the huge distribution.

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