Though they may look like Leopard ghosts, genetic tests link Snow Leopards more closely to Tigers. Strangely, their scientific name (which was recently changed from Uncia uncia) was originally used to describe the European Lynx, and is derived from the old French word for “once.”
There are many subspecies of Tigers (South China, Sumatran, Amur, Indochinese, etc.), as well as Lions (Asiatic, Barbary, West African, etc.). But until 2017 there was only one Snow Leopard species. Now there are three subspecies: P. u. uncia, P. u. uncioides, and P. u. irbis.
Snow Leopards are the only classified large panthera species that cannot roar. Instead, Snow Leopard sounds include the chuff, growl, hiss, and mew.
Like all cats, Snow Leopards are mammals– part of the Felidae (feline) family. They are in the Panthera genus, which also includes Jaguars, Leopards, Lions, and Tigers. The other two “big” cats, Cheetahs and Pumas, are part of the Puma genus.
So just how big is a Snow Leopard? Most individuals weigh between 60 and 120 pounds, measuring at around two feet tall and four to five feet long. While they are large mammals, this makes them the smallest of the big cat species.
Snow Leopards have evolved to make their bodies better suited to their frigid habitat. So they’re stocky cats with short legs and short, rounded ears that help prevent the loss of body heat. They also have wide nasal cavities to heat the air they breathe before it reaches their lungs.
Snow Leopard fur is incredibly thick– up to five inches– to better insulate them in the snow. This fur also covers their large paws, which function almost like snowshoes to make it easier for them to walk and stalk their prey in the snow. s