Every living thing on earth has been named and classified. These biological classifications, also called taxonomy, show how different living things are related to each other. Big cats biological classification works the same way.
The classification of living things began with Aristotle over 2,300 years ago. He created two groups, animals and plants, and then divided the animals into three subgroups – animals that could fly, walk or swim. In the 1700s, a Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus created a system for describing and grouping taxa (organisms). Linnaeus is often referred to as the “father of taxonomy.”
The current biological classification of living things includes five kingdoms:
- Protista (Protists) – single-celled organisms that have a nucleus. Protists slime molds and algae. They are not animals, plants, fungi or bacteria.
- Monera – single-celled organisms that don’t have a nucleus
- Fungi (Fungus) – motionless organisms that absorb nutrients for survival. Most fungi are multicellular.
- Plantae (Plants) – plants that contain chlorophyll, a green pigment necessary for photosynthesis. The plant kingdom is the second largest d.
- Animalia (Animals) multi-celled organisms that have nervous systems. The animal kingdom is the largest kingdom.
Sometime the Monera kingdom is divided into two separate kingdoms, Eubacteria and Archeobacteria. The Archaebacteria kingdom was discovered in 1983 when scientists found single-celled organisms in samples taken from places where water, gases and molten rock boiled to the Earth’s surface. Eubacteria are complex single-celled organisms that include most bacteria. Big cats are members of the animalia (animal) kingdom.
A kingdom is divided into smaller groups called Phylum. The animal kingdom has approximately 35 phyla, including:
- Cnidaria (invertebrates)
- Cordata (vertebrates) – The cordata phylum is made up of 3 subphylum: Tunicate, Cephalochordata and Vertebrata.
- Arthropods (centipedes, insects, spiders)
- Molluscs Echinoderms (mollusks)
- Annelids (earthworms, leeches)
Big cats are members of the Chordata phylum and Vertebrata subphylum.
The subphylum Vertebrata is divided into superclasses and classes. The superclass Tetrapoda (four-limbed vertebrates) includes the classes of:
- Amphibia (amphibians)
- Reptilia (reptiles)
- Mammalia (mammals)
- Aves (birds)
In big cat biological classification, big cats are members of the mammalia class.
The mammalia (mammal) class is made up of 4 groups called orders:
- Carnivora (meat eaters)
Big cats are part of the carnivore order.
The carnivore order is made up of different “families” with similar features:
- Felidae (Cats)
- Canidae (Dogs)
- Ursidae (Bears)
- Mustelidae (Weasels).
Big cats are members of the Felidae (cat) family. The Felidae family has four sub-families:
- Machairodontinae – prehistoric/extinci
- Proailurinae – prehistoric/extinct
Families are made up of smaller groups called genus. The members of a genus are closely related and have similar features and characteristics.
A species is an even smaller group of animals within a genus that can interbreed and produce offspring.
More About the Big Cat Subfamilies
The Pantherinae subfamily includes the genus Panthera, Uncia and Neofelis. The Panthera genus is made up of four species:
- tigers (Panthera tigris)
- lions (Panthera leo)
- jaguars (Panthera onca)
- leopards (Panthera pardus)
A fifth species, the Longdan tiger (Panthera zdanskyi) once existed in China but is now extinct. Members of the Panthera genus (tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards) make up half of the big cats and are the only cats that roar. The genus Uncia includes the snow leopard (Uncia uncia or Panthera uncial), the only big cat classified in this genus. The third Pantherinae genus, Neofelis, includes the clouded leopard and the Sunda clouded leopard. Felinae, the second subfamily of Felidae, includes small and medium-sized wild cats, as well as two big cats, the cougar and cheetah. .
The largest of all the Asian big cats, tigers rely primarily on sight and sound rather than smell for hunting. They typically hunt alone and stalk prey. A tiger can consume up to 88 pounds of meat at one time. On average, tigers give birth to two to four cubs every two years. If all the cubs in one litter die, a second litter may be produced within five months.
Tigers generally gain independence at two years of age and attain sexual maturity at age three or four for females and at four or five years for males. Juvenile mortality is high however—about half of all cubs do not survive more than two years. Tigers have been known to reach up to 20 years of age in the wild.
Males of the largest subspecies, the Amur (Siberian) tiger, may weigh up to 660 pounds. For males of the smallest subspecies—the Sumatran tiger—upper range is at around 310 pounds. Within each subspecies, males are heavier than females.
Tigers are mostly solitary, apart from associations between mother and offspring. Individual tigers have a large territory, and the size is determined mostly by the availability of prey. Individuals mark their domain with urine, feces, rakes, scrapes and vocalizing.
Across their range, tigers face unrelenting pressures from poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss. They are forced to compete for space with dense and often growing human populations.