Communication - Page 1: Communication | 2: Sound Files


Among big cat fans the roar is the ultimate form of communication. Only the great cats can roar; that is, the tiger, lion, jaguar and leopard -- but not the snow leopard. The ability to roar is what differentiates a 'great' cat from a 'big' cat.

In great cats the structure of bones supporting the larynx,  and anchoring the throat and tongue, (called the hyoid)  is connected with an elastic ligament as against more bone. This can be stretched by up to a third (eight or nine inches), so opening the air passages and allowing the roar to be produced.

Though the snow leopard has this modification it is in a somewhat primitive form and that cat has never been recorded as roaring.

Utilised in long-range communication the roar is infrequently used. Easily heard for over 3 km, it advertises location and warns away other tigers, or attracts them when the search for a mate is on. Sometimes it is sounded after a successful kill, but never during the actual attack which is carried out in silence.

Lions may be extend their roaring so it continues for one or two minutes; this encourages members of the pride to join in. The roar of the solitary tiger is usually very short in duration.

Mating is when roaring is heard most often; tigers are at their noisiest when on heat and breeding.

During a roar the ears are laid back and rotated so the backs are visible, the nose wrinkles and the eyes narrow.


Roars may be preceded with a long, low moaning noise. Softer versions of the moan are used in communication between mother and cubs.

Growls and Snarls:

Growls and snarls are easily the most common form of communication, with the growl being aggressive, while the snarl is defensive. The tigers shown on this page and the next are both snarling.  

Growls can turn into a hissing or spitting very similar to that produced by a domestic cat. 


This is something of a dilemma. Some people claim to have heard it in the tiger, but many experts feel it is almost certain that tigers do not, and cannot purr in the same way that the small cats can.

Chuffing or Prusten:

The 'chuff' or 'prusten' is considered to be a friendly and non-threatening alternative to purring. In German, prusten means to sneeze, snort, or suddenly burst out laughing. This low-intensity sound is produced by holding the mouth closed and snorting through the nostrils. In the wild prusten is used when two tigers meet on neutral territory, while captive tigers sometimes start to use it with keepers. 


Another unusual sound which may be made is the 'pook'. This is very similar to the sound made by the sambar, a favourite prey animal of the tiger. Because of this fact some experts think it may be a form of mimicry. By imitating the deer the tiger could elicit a reply, so locating the precise whereabouts of lunch. Local hunters also believe that the Amur (Siberian) tiger imitates the wapiti deer by producing the roaring of a stag during mating season.

These ideas are still to be proven and those who disagree point out it is equally likely any attempt at mimicry could spook the prey.

Other sounds:

The tiger's range of sound is quite wide and they also meow, grunt and make a type of woofing noise.

Communication - Page 1: Communication | 2: Sound Files

 Taxonomy | Whiskers | Hearing & Ear Spots | Eyesight | Smell | Teeth | Communication | Flehman | Genetics |
Life Span | Streaking | Claws, Paws & Pug Marks | Skin & Coat | Gait | Tail | Cleanliness & Tongue |
Skeleton & Internal Organs | Big Cat/Small Cat?

Characteristics Index | Home

Photography With Thanks To Hans Stenström (Photo 1)
All Rights Reserved. Displayed here with permission, for educational, non-profit purposes.