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.
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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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