The 7 Cats of the Panthera Lineage

The Panthera lineage consists of seven cats, five of which are the largest in the cat family. This lineage comprises the five big cats of the Panthera genus and the two Clouded Leopards of the Neofelis genus.

The first four big cats in the Panthera genus are the only wild cats that have the ability to roar, however they cannot purr like most other cats. The fifth cat, the Snow Leopard, is the big cat exception in this genus that cannot roar.

These big cats are also the most endangered due to the loss and fragmentation of their large territories, and wildlife trade in their body parts and beautiful skins.

The other large cats, the Puma and Cheetah, have different characteristics and are grouped under the Puma Lineage.

Panthera Lower Classifications

In scientific classification (taxonomy) the big cats belong to the family Felidae and the subfamily Pantherinae. The higher and lower classifications of this group are as follows:


Note: 'Lineage' is not a taxonomic unit, it is a means to group closely related species in evolutionary order.

Tiger Sticker
Lion Sticker
Jaguar Sticker
Leopard Sticker

Classification Chart

This Panthera classification chart shows the cats of the Panthera lineage which includes the Panthera genus and Neofelis genus:

Panthera Classification Chart
Click chart to download.
Permission to use for personal or educational use.

Panthera Genus

The five cats of the Panthera genus are the Snow Leopard, Tiger, Jaguar, Leopard and Lion.

Characteristics of the Panthera genus include a large, muscular body with a large skull, long tail and broad paws. The skull structure and size is a key feature that differs for each of the Felidae genera. Males are heavier and larger than females.

All Panthera species, except for the Snow Leopard, have long vocal folds with an incompletely ossified hyoid bone, enabling them to make a loud roar. Each species has a particular pattern distinguishing their roar.

The Snow Leopard has shorter vocal folds and cannot roar and used to be classed in its own Uncia genus. However, genetic studies showed it was closely related to the other Panthera species and belonged in the same genus. Historically, animal classification was based on morphological (physical) characteristics until the advent of more accurate genetic methods.

All Panthera big cats can also 'prusten' which is a short low intensity sound, also called a chuffle, and is a form of non-threatening communication between cats, such as a mother and her cubs.

Due to their ability to roar, the big cats are often called the roaring cats, as opposed to the rest of the smaller cats, called the purring cats.

Panthera Genus Big Cat Chart
Panthera Genus Chart by Wild Cat Family
Click chart to download.
Permission to use for personal or educational use.

Neofelis Genus

The two cats of the Neofelis genus are the Mainland Clouded Leopard and the Sunda Clouded Leopard.

Neofelis species are medium-sized cats and males are larger than females. Characteristics include a long body with a very long tail, and relatively short, thick legs with large paws. The skull structure has an unusual anatomy with elongated canine teeth and enables a wide gape of almost 90 degrees, the largest of all carnivores. They have a completely ossified hyoid bone and cannot roar.

Neofelis used to be a monotypic genus until genetic studies showed that the island cats were distinct enough from the continental cats to be classed as a separate species.

1. Mainland Clouded Leopard

(Neofelis nebulosa)

Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) - Neofelis Genus

Mainland Clouded Leopard Classification, Conservation and Facts

2. Sunda Clouded Leopard

(Neofelis diardi)

Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi) - Neofelis genus

Sunda Clouded Leopard Classification, Conservation and Facts

Panthera Evolution Chart

Panthera Evolution

The last common ancestor of modern cats was a species of Pseudaelurus that occurred in Asia 9 to 20 million years ago (MYA). Using genetics, scientists have established that modern cats diverged from this ancient species into eight groups or lineages of closely related species in the cat family Felidae.

The Panthera lineage of the big roaring cats is the oldest cat lineage that split from this common ancestor 10.8 MYA. Descendants evolved into seven species which occur across all the continents of Asia, North and South America, Europe and Africa as they migrated to and from Asia over time.

Note: MYA periods on the diagram are very broad estimates and rather indicate earlier versus later divergences rather than the actual period they occurred.
Reference: O’Brien, J. S. and Johnson, W. E. (2007). The evolution of cats. Scientific American July 2007: 68-75.

Panthera Cats Quiz

Browse our website to find the answers to this quiz. Good luck!

1. Which continent has the most big cat species?

2. Which continent has no big cat species?

3. How many times larger is the Lion compared to the Clouded Leopard?

4. Which two big cat species are at the most risk of becoming extinct?

5. Which big cat is also known as a Panther?

6. Which cat in the Panthera genus cannot roar?

=^ . ^=

There is a lot of confusion around the term 'big cats'. Some use it to refer to all the larger size cats (over 50kgs), others mean it to only be the Panthera genus cats and yet others interpret it to mean all the cats in the Pantherinae subfamily (even though Clouded Leopards only weigh around 25kgs).

In the poster alongside, the artist has yet another definition which is all the pantherine cats as well as the two other large cats - the Puma and Cheetah. These two are actually classed in the small cat subfamily Felinae and although Pumas do indeed weigh more than 50kgs, Cheetahs weigh less than 50kgs.

Educational kids print of nine big cats
View Big Cats Poster by TelegraphPaperCo
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