Is a Black Panther a leopard or jaguar?

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Michael Fassbender

The jaguar vs. the leopard—these two magnificent spotted big cats are both members of the Panthera genus, are muscular ambush predators and are so similar in coat appearance that even the savviest animal lover can have a tricky time telling them apart in photos. And while a black panther is easy to identify because of its, well, very obvious black color, most people mistakenly think that it is its own species. Nope. Let’s take a minute to learn a bit more about what sets a jaguar, leopard and black panther apart.

The easiest and quickest way to figure out if you are looking at a jaguar or a leopard is by location. They live on completely different continents. If the spotted cat happens to be in Latin America, it’s definitely a jaguar. And if you see a spotted big cat in Africa, Asia, the Middle East or Russia, it will be a leopard (cheetahs have spotted coats but a significantly slighter build and don’t count as a “big” cat).

Physical Differences

When it comes to looks, jaguars are bigger and bulkier than leopards, weighing up to 250 pounds compared with the 175-pound leopard. Jaguars are stockier and more muscular than the leopard, with a shorter body, shorter legs and a broader chest. They also tend to have a large barrel-like abdomen. The leopard, though, is much more delicately built than its South American counterpart. It has a more slender and longer body, longer legs and a generally more lithe appearance.

Distinctive Features

Another way to tell the difference between a jaguar and a leopard is by looking at their heads, which are quite different and suit their unique hunting styles. Jaguars have large heads with a broad forehead, wide jaws, massive teeth and a round shape to their faces. In comparison, leopards tend to have smaller heads, and kill their prey by a suffocating bite to the throat (with larger prey) or to the back of the neck (with smaller prey).

Habitat and Behavior

The leopard has a much longer tail, which helps it keep its balance when climbing trees. Jaguars are also good climbers, but not as agile in the trees as the leopards. But the jaguar doesn’t need to climb as much, as it doesn’t have any natural predators. The jaguar reigns supreme in its habitat and doesn’t have to drag its prey up into the trees to protect its dinner from other predators like lions, hyenas or tigers, like the leopard does. Jaguars instead love to hang out by the water and specialize in hunting caiman and capybaras on the riverbanks. Leopards generally avoid water and prefer to hunt deer and other terrestrial prey.

Black Panther

A black panther is the melanistic colour variant of the leopard (Panthera pardus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca). Simply put, a “black panther” is not its own species—it’s an umbrella term that covers any big cat with a black coat. A panther is defined as a melanistic color variant of other species in the Panthera genus of which both jaguars and leopards belong.

FAQs

What is a Black Panther?

A black panther is the melanistic colour variant of the leopard (Panthera pardus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca). Simply put, a “black panther” is not its own species—it’s an umbrella term that covers any big cat with a black coat. A panther is defined as a melanistic color variant of other species in the Panthera genus of which both jaguars and leopards belong.

How can you tell the difference between a jaguar and a leopard?

The easiest and quickest way to figure out if you are looking at a jaguar or a leopard is by location. They live on completely different continents. If the spotted cat happens to be in Latin America, it’s definitely a jaguar. And if you see a spotted big cat in Africa, Asia, the Middle East or Russia, it will be a leopard.

What are the distinctive features of a jaguar and a leopard?

Jaguars are bigger and bulkier than leopards, weighing up to 250 pounds compared with the 175-pound leopard. Jaguars are stockier and more muscular than the leopard, with a shorter body, shorter legs and a broader chest. They also tend to have a large barrel-like abdomen. The leopard, though, is much more delicately built than its South American counterpart. It has a more slender and longer body, longer legs and a generally more lithe appearance.

What is the habitat and behavior difference between jaguars and leopards?

Jaguars love to hang out by the water and specialize in hunting caiman and capybaras on the riverbanks. Leopards generally avoid water and prefer to hunt deer and other terrestrial prey. Jaguars don’t have any natural predators and don’t have to drag their prey up into the trees to protect their dinner from other predators like lions, hyenas or tigers, like the leopard does.

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