Cheetahs have a wide range of sounds they produce! From chirps to purrs, growls to yelps, cheetahs are quite vocal members of the big cat family.
“When classifying cats scientifically, they fall under the family Felidae,” says Dr. Elena Less, Animal Curator. There are certain characteristics that an animal must have to be considered part of this family, including how their tongues look, the size of their eyes and the placement of their whiskers, to name a few.
Within the cat family, there are subfamilies (Pantherinae and Felinae) that divide cats up further. “Cats who can roar are part of the Pantherinae subfamily and cats who can purr are in the Felinae subfamily,” says Dr. Less.
It might surprise you to hear cheetahs are in the Felinae subfamily. Cheetahs can purr but not roar!
But why? Cheetahs are considered big cats, just like lions and tigers (who can roar), so what gives? The answers are inside the voice box…
Cat voice boxes contain either a specific bone (called the epihyal bone) or a ligament. Then it’s just a matter of the cat producing sounds and how their voice box handles those sounds.
Like tigers and lions, cats with the mentioned ligament in their voice box can produce loud roars — the ligament stretches and makes loud sounds that can be heard miles away. “Cheetahs and other cats with the epihyal bone purr, instead of roar, because of how that bone vibrates,” says Dr. Less. Roaring and purring are mutually exclusive, too! If a cat roars, it cannot purr. If it purrs, a cat cannot roar.
When it comes to making other sounds, cheetahs are very vocal cats. Purrs, chirps and trills show a cheetah’s contentment while growls, yells and hisses denote threatened feelings.