Purring and similar vocalizations in mammals


G. Peters, Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig, Adenauerallee 160, D-53113 Bonn, Germany (e-mail: g.peters.zfmk@uni-bonn.de).


The terms purr and purring have been used for vocalizations produced by a variety of mammalian species in different orders. A few other mammalian vocalizations that are structurally somewhat similar to felid purring but have been given another term have also been described in the literature. Because use of the same term implies ‘sameness’, which in an evolutionary sense can only mean that the vocalizations so named are homologous (= share the same ancestral vocalization type), the terms purr and purring ought to be restricted to vocalizations homologous with felid purring, and any mammalian vocalization homologous with felid purring ought to be named accordingly. According to present knowledge ‘true’ purring is established only in the families Viverridae and Felidae of the Carnivora. Vocalizations very similar in structure occur in matching behavioural contexts in other families of the Carnivora and several other mammalian orders. Most of these vocalization types are likely to have evolved convergently.