Friday, February 26, 2016

Isn't it Purrfect

Here at IEAS, we’re home to many animals, including many different species of felines that range in size. When you think of cats in general, the first thing that may pop in your head is a cat’s ability to purr. Purring is one of the many vocalizations cats use to communicate. As everyone knows, domestic cats purr when they’re happy and expressing their affection. A common question I’ve gotten since being here is, do the larger cats, like tigers, purr? The answer to this question is… no cat can both purr and roar!

So, what gives a cat the ability to purr? Purring is produced by laryngeal muscles which move the vocal cords and open and close the space between the cords known as the glottis. The glottis rapidly opens and closes as the muscles rhythmically contract which is signaled by a “neural oscillator” in the cat’s brain. When the cat breathes in and out, air hits the vibrating muscles and the glottis producing bursts of noise 25 times a second which creates the purring sound we’re all familiar with. Surprisingly the whole process isn’t consciously controlled by the cat, purring is pretty much a muscular twitch!

Why can’t larger cats purr? The hyoid bone makes all the difference in the world! The hyoid bone is found in the throat and provides support for the tongue and larynx. In smaller cats that purr, the hyoid bone is more rigid and bony. In the larger roaring cats like lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards, the hyoid bone is more flexible giving them the ability to roar but not to purr. Cougars are actually the largest cat with the ability to purr along with bobcats and lynxes.
Hyoid Bone

So, how do the larger cats that can't purr vocalize their affection? Tigers, which can’t purr, make a noise called a “chuff”. A chuff is a breathy, friendly sound tigers make out of excitement and as a greeting to their fellow tigers and keepers. Lions show their affection in a different way, instead of chuffing, they moan! Like a tiger's chuff, a lion's moan is also like a friendly greeting and a way to show their affection toward one another. If you want to hear these many vocalizations in action, come out to the Sanctuary for a tour today! Tours are held at 11 a.m. every day and on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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