A lion roar is so loud because its vocal folds form a square shape. This shape essentially stabilizes the vocal cords, enabling them to better respond to the passing air. That way, lions can produce loud roars without exerting too much pressure on their lungs!
A lion’s roar is one of the most terrifying sounds in the animal kingdom. If you’re in the African savannas and happen to hear this sound, don’t think about it – just run!
Lions, as you may have noticed, aren’t the only animals that can roar. This threatening feat can be accomplished by three other animals – tigers, leopards and jaguars. This isn’t a coincidence, of course; all four species belong to the same genus, Panthera.
So what makes these animals so special? What is it about them that imbues them with the frightening magic of the roar?
The Voice Box
The science behind those majestic roars all comes down to one organ: the larynx (voice box). The vocal folds (vocal cords) of the larynx are different in lions and tigers than they are in other animals (even cheetahs can’t roar, as they belong to a separate genus).
In general, the voice of any animal (including humans) is produced by air (from the lungs) flowing past the vocal folds. This causes the vocal folds to vibrate, thereby “chopping up” the airflow. Due to this staggered output of air, audible pulses of sound are produced. The exact nature and volume of the sound depend on the air pressure from the lungs (which means that air pressure is the “fuel” of our voices) and on the muscles of the larynx (they adjust the exact length and tension of the vocal folds).
The difference between the vocal folds between the Panthera cats and other animals is in their shape. While our vocal folds form a triangular shape within our throats, the vocal folds of lions and tigers form a square shape. This is due to the big cats having some fat located deep within the vocal fold ligament. It is due to this deposited fat that the vocal folds get their flattened, square shape. This shape essentially stabilizes the vocal cords, enabling them to better respond to the passing air. That way, lions can produce loud roars without exerting too much pressure on their lungs!
The powerful roars of a lion can be as loud as 114 decibels, which is as loud as some rock concerts!
What we’re trying to say is that next time you hear a lion or tiger roar, just think about how their vocal folds are vibrating like crazy, yet still withstanding all that stretching and shearing stress.
Or, you could just do the normal thing… be terrified.