September 28, 2023

Large carnivores hold a strange fascination for minifigurekind. Throughout our evolution, these beasts represented the top of the food chain, commanding a terrifying respect and wariness. Many ancient societies worshiped them as totems or spirits of the wild for those reasons. There’s no doubt, large cats are captivating. Perhaps it’s their stealth, their streamlined beauty, or their mesmerizing gaze that holds us entranced. Regardless, these felines hold a special place in the minifigure psyche. Minifigures flock to zoos and take safaris all over the world just to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures. Large cats inhabit the plains, jungles, and mountain forests. Regardless of where you go, this field guide to LEGO® wild cats will help you identify them in all their stunning beauty.

NOTE: While I have researched wild cats fairly extensively, this article is a work of fiction. I have used scientific research and woven it into the context of feline figurines produced by the LEGO® Group to tell a convincing story. But it is just that, a story.

Let us begin with a distinction. In this guide, we discuss large-bodied cats, not simply the big cats. We cover the big cats for sure, but a large cat is not necessarily a big cat. Science defines big cats as felines with the ability to roar. These cats include members of the sub-family Pantherinae. In terms of what Minifigures might encounter, this means the lion, tiger, and leopard. Roaring requires a specialized structure of the hyoid apparatus. These are small bones in the throat that support the larynx, or voice box. The hyoid bones of big cats feature an elastic ligament other cat species do not have. This ligament allows the larynx to stretch and move in a manner the facilitates roaring in conjunction with the specialized vocal folds inside the larynx itself.

The hyoid apparatus of big cats. “A” = trachea, “B” = layrynx, “C” = hyoid bones, “D” = rear of tongue muscle.

The big cats last shared a common ancestor with other cat species approximately 11 million years ago. Modern species began diverging approximately three million years ago. However, this modern radiation of cats is not to be confused with the sabre-toothed “tigers”. Cat-like species commonly spoken of as sabre-toothed actually belong to several different species. Some of these species were not actually true cats at all, but rather an example of convergent evolution. Consequently, they bear no close relation to modern tigers. While some sabre-toothed species were actually members of the Felidae family containing all modern cats, they actually represent a distinct sub-family called the Machairodontinae. These cats existed from about 12 million years ago until the last ice age, approximately 10,000 years ago.

Melting permafrost continues revealing the frozen remains of extinct animals.

LEGO Sabre-tooth cat

A 2018 arctic expedition unearthed two examples of Machairodont sabre-toothed cats. The creatures remained frozen for centuries, presumably since the last glaciation (115,000 – 11,700 years ago). Global warming resulting in melting permafrost revealed their complete body fossils. Similarly, researchers found other prehistoric creatures on the expedition, such as a perfectly preserved woolly mammoth.


  • Length: 8.2 cm
  • Height: 3 cm
  • Mass: 11.71 g
  • Appearance: Medium nougat base coat with dorso-ventral brown stripes. Pronounced cheek and dorsal neck ruff. Yellow eyes and pronounced canine teeth.

Documented Sabre-tooth Cat Expeditions:

©2018 The LEGO® Group

Arctic Air Transport

©2018 The LEGO® Group

Arctic Supply Plane

  • Set #: 60196
  • RRP: $99.99 CAD
  • Brick Count: 689
  • Released: June 2, 2018
  • Retired: January 14, 2020

In terms of general size and form, all large LEGO® cats are fairly similar. As such, several phenotypic traits are not useful in terms of identification. When measured from the nose to the tip of tail with the neck inline with the spine, each cat measures approximately 8.2 cm long. Additionally, they have a shoulder height of around 3 cm. Interestingly, despite near identical dimensions, the species range in mass from 11 to nearly 13 grams.

Length of the LEGO® wild cats is measured from the nose to the tip of the tail. Height is measured from the base of the foot to the top of the shoulder.

Pugmarks, or footprints, are another unreliable trait often discussed in scientific circles. Some scientists use pugmarks as a non-invasive method for wild cat population census. This technique is controversial in terms of accuracy on a species level. Opponents of the method say you cannot reliably identify an individual based on its footprints because they vary greatly from substrate to substrate. This is further complicate by the fact that all LEGO® wild cats have nearly identical pugmarks. This means that researchers will easily confuse not just individuals, but also species where territories overlap. We recommend remote camera traps as a more accurate census technique.

Guide to LEGO Wild Cats: all large LEGO cats have identical footprints, making this an unreliable trait for identification.
Mountain lion pugmarks found in the soil. All large LEGO® cats have identical footprints, making this an unreliable trait for species or individual identification.

Of panthers and white lions…

Pelage coloration and markings are generally the best way to identify the species of LEGO® cat you are dealing with. However, it is important to note that genotypic variation within certain species occasionally results in dramatic color variation even within a single species. Two documented examples include panthers and white lions. The panther is not a species in and of itself, but rather an all-black variant of the leopard. This is a phenotypic variation known as melanism. In leopards, a gene mutation stops the normal functioning of ASIP (Agouti Signaling Protein). ASIP is responsible for lighter fur coloring. In “normal” coloration, ASIP binds to the MC1R (melanocortin-1 receptor) gene to inhibit the production of melanin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for dark coloration. Without the usual pathway for development of lighter colored fur, a leopard is born a “panther”.

Guide to LEGO Wild Cats: the melanistic leopard

Similarly, white lions represent another phenotypic variation. In this case, the lion is not an albino. Albinos are characterized by a complete lack of pigment. One defining trait of albinism is red eyes. Blood in the tissues becomes visible with no pigment in the iris. However, white lions have blue eyes and pigment in their skin. The condition is known as leucism and also results from a gene mutation. Unlike the melanistic leopard, this gene mutation causes a decrease in melanin production. In both leopard melanism and lion leucism, the gene mutation is recessive. In other words, both parents must pass on the recessive gene in order for a cub to show the color variation. However, since it is recessive, an animal may carry the gene and simply not express it.

Guide to LEGO Wild Cats: the white lion
Guide to LEGO Wild Cats: Mountain Lion

Puma concolor – The Mountain Lion

  • Length: 8.2 cm
  • Height: 3 cm
  • Mass: 10.92 g
  • Appearance: Dark tan with a white muzzle. Distinctive black markings line the muzzle and nose. Blue eyes.

Of all the species in our guide to LEGO® wild cats, only one does not qualify as a big or roaring cat. It is known by many names, including puma, cougar, and mountain lion to name a few. Historically, this species of cat ranged throughout North and South America. Nowadays, while it is still widespread in South America, it resides almost exclusively on the western side of North America. A small population exists in Florida on Eastern coast. The cougar is not considered an endangered species, though fewer than 100 individuals exist in the Florida population.

Guide to LEGO Wild Cats: mountain lion distribution map.
LEGO® World Map modified to represent the approximate modern distribution of the mountain lion in red.

Documented appearances of the LEGO® mountain lion:

Mountain Police Headquarters. ©2018 The LEGO® Group

Mountain Police Headquarters

Guide to LEGO wild cats: tiger

Panthera tigris – The Tiger

  • Length: 8.2 cm
  • Height: 3 cm
  • Mass: 11.19 g
  • Appearance: Bright light orange base coloration with black dorso-ventral stripes. Muzzle, chin, lower jaw, and neck are white. Bright light orange eyes with distinctive black stripe pattern on forehead.

The tiger is probably the oldest member of the genus Panthera, having speciated around 3 million years ago. Historically, this cat ranged throughout Asia and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali. Today, tigers are an endangered species occupying less than 6% of their original territory. Fewer than 4000 tigers remain in the wild.

Guide to LEGO wild cats: tiger distribution map
LEGO® World Map modified to represent the approximate modern distribution of the tiger in red.

Documented appearances of the LEGO® tiger:

Jungle Airdrop Helicopter. ©2017 The LEGO® Group.

Jungle Air Drop Helicopter

  • Set #: 60162
  • RRP: $179.99 CAD
  • Brick Count: 1221
  • Released: August 1, 2017
  • Retired: July 29, 2018

Guide to LEGO Wild cats: The Leopard

Panthera pardus – The Leopard

  • Length: 8.2 cm
  • Height: 3 cm
  • Mass: 11.20 g
  • Appearance: The typical leopard features a tan base coat with black spots arranges in hollow rosettes along its sides and forehead. The muzzle and under chin area are white, and the eye color is tan. The melanistic leopard appears all black with lime green eyes and a dark grey nose.

The leopard is not an endangered species, though conservationists classify it as vulnerable. It is the widest ranging of all cat species. You find the leopard throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. During the last ice age, it roamed all of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Scientists estimate as many 250,000 leopards remain in the wild. However, their populations are extremely fragmented. Additionally, some subspecies, like the Amur leopard, are critically endangered.

LEGO® World Map modified to represent the approximate modern distribution of the leopard in red.

Documented appearances of the LEGO® leopard:

©2017 The LEGO® Group.

Jungle Halftrack Mission

©2017 The LEGO® Group.

Jungle Exploration Site

©2022 The LEGO® Group.

Wild Animal Rescue Missions

Guide to LEGO Wild Cats: Lions

Panthera leo – The Lion

  • Length: 8.2 cm
  • Height: 3 cm
  • Mass of Males: 12.95 g
  • Mass of Females: 10.89 g
  • Appearance: The lion expresses the most phenotypic variation of all the felines in our guide. Not only does it have a leucistic color variant, but it is also the only sexually dimorphic species of LEGO® wild cat. Males have a mane and weigh about two grams more than their female counterparts. Otherwise, the coat color is tan with no markings. Lions have a white muzzle with thin black lining under the nougat-colored nose. Their eyes are bright light orange. The male’s mane is typically reddish brown. The white lion, as the name suggests, is white. The male’s mane is tan colored, and the eyes are bright light blue.

The lion once roamed through Africa and Asia. Now, they exist only in sub-Saharan Africa, with a small and critically endangered population in India. Lions are classified as a vulnerable species. Between 23,000 and 39,000 still exist in the wild. However, their populations are extremely fragmented. The white lion does not represent a separate species or subspecies of lion. It its merely a genetic variant of the more common tawny lion. White lions have only ever existed in the Timbavati/Kruger region of South Africa.

LEGO® World Map modified to show the approximate distribution of lions in red.

Documented appearances of the LEGO® lion:

©2020 The LEGO® Group.

Safari Off-Roader

©2022 The LEGO® Group.

Wildlife Rescue Off-Roader

  • Set #: 60301
  • Cost: $69.99 CAD
  • Brick Count: 157
  • Released: August 3, 2021
  • Retired: December 1, 2022
  • Includes: Male tan lion, tan cub
©2022 The LEGO® Group.

Wildlife Rescue Camp

  • Set #: 60307
  • Cost: $139.99 CAD
  • Brick Count: 478
  • Released: August 3, 2021
  • Retired: November 25, 2022
  • Includes: Male white lion, female tan lion, tan cub, and white cub.
  • Read the True North Bricks review.

While generally similar in size, the LEGO® wild cats show enough phenotypic variation to allow for species specific identification. Certain physical traits like overall size and pugmarks are unhelpful. However, each species shows enough color and pattern variation for clear identification. Exercise caution when classifying leopards and lions as each species is known to exhibit genetic mutations resulting in extreme color variation. In the case of leopards, melanism is common. For lions, leucism occurs in South African prides. Presently, documented LEGO® species include saber tooth cats, mountain lions, tigers, leopards, and lions. Additionally, ancient South and Central American cultures created jaguar art. However, no jaguars have even been scientifically documented. We will update this field guide should evidence for more species arise. We hope you find this field guide to LEGO® wild cats useful in your nature excursions.

Until next time,

-Tom (B.Sc. Wildlife Biology)

Guide to LEGO Wild Cats species
Species and variants covered in the Guide to LEGO® Wild Cats.

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