Communication and Perception
Felids have acute senses of smell, hearing, and sight. In addition to the tapetum lucidum, a layer of reflective tissue in the eye of many vertebrates, felids have a modified pupil that allows for excellent vision in a wide range of environments. The felid pupil consists of a vertical slit that expands in low light conditions and contracts in high light conditions. Felids have relatively large pinnae that can rotate to allow for multidirectional hearing without rotating their head. Well-developed vibrissae, which are located above the eyes, on the muzzle, and on the ventral surface of forepaws between the digits, play an important role in tactile sensory reception. Similar to other carnivores, felids have haptic receptors inside their digits that allows them to sense temperature, pressure, and other stimuli.
Felids are solitary animals that scent mark territories with facial glands and urine. They also mark territorial boundaries by clawing tree trunks. Like many vertebrates, felids have a vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson's organ, that allows them to detect pheromones. This olfactory sense organ is found at the base of the nasal cavity and plays an important role in conspecific interactions, especially those related to reproduction. For example, after smelling the genital area or urine of a potential mate, males curl their upper lip toward their nostrils (i.e., the Flehmen response). Using the vomeronasal organ, this allows males to assess the mating condition and quality of potential mates. It is thought that input from the vomeronasal organ and the olfactory bulbs significantly contribute to mating activity.
Due to their nocturnal and solitary lifestyles, investigating audible communication in felids has proven difficult. However, the calls of many carnivores are known to signal individual recognition and territorial boundaries. It is thought that by observing domestic cats (Felis catus), one can hear a majority of the sounds made by most felids. They purr, meow, growl, hiss, spit, and scream. The hyoid apparatus of small-bodied cats is hardened, resulting in an inability to roar. Large-bodied cats have the capability to roar, which is thought to serve as a form of long-distance communication. For example, lions typically roar at night to advertise territories. Research suggests that lionesses can identify the sex of a roaring individual and lionesses respond differently to different numbers of roaring individuals.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic
- Packer, C. 2001. Why lions roar: long distance vocal communication in African prides. Pp. 16-17 in D Macdonald, ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford, UK: Andromeda Oxford Limited.