Leopard

Scientific name: Panthera pardus

Picture of a leopard.
Leopard - Panthera pardus. Photo © Arno Meintjes / Getty Images.

Leopards (Panthera pardus) are one of seven species of big cat, a group that also includes clouded leopards, Sunda clouded leopards, snow leopards, tigers, lions, jaguars. The base color of the leopard's coat is cream-yellow on the belly and it darkens slightly to an orange-brown on the back. A dappling of solid black spots is present on the leopard's limbs and head. These spots form circular rosette patterns that are golden or umber in color at the center.

The rosettes are most prominant on the jaguar's back and flanks. Spots on the leopard's neck, belly, and limbs are smaller and do not form rosettes. The leopard's tale has irregular patches that, at the tip of the tale, become dark-ringed bands.

Jaguars are muscular cats that can grow to more than 6 feet in length. They measure as much as 43 inches tall at the soulder. Full grown leopards can weigh between 82 and 200 pounds. The lifespan of a leopard is between 12 and 17 years.

The geographical range of leopards is among the most widespread of all the big cat species. They inhabit the grasslands and deserts of Sub-Saharan Africa including West, Central, South and East Africa as well as South East Asia.

Leopards have shorter legs than many other species of big cats. Their body is long and they have a relatively large skull. Leopards are similar to jaguars in appearance but their rosettes are smaller and lack a black spot in the center of the rosette.

Additionally, their range does not overlap with jaguars, which are native to Central and South America.

Leopards have a varied diet, in fact their diet is among the widest of all the cat species. Leopards feed primarily on large prey species such as ungulates. They also feed on monkeys, insects, birds, small mammals, and reptiles.

The diet of leopards varies based on their location. In Asia, their prey include antelopes, chitals, muntjacs, and ibex. They hunt mainly during the night.

Leopards are skilled at climbing and often cary their prey into trees where they feed or hide their catch for later use. By feeding in trees, leopards avoid being disturbed by scavengers such as jackals and hyenas. When a leopard captures large prey, it can sustain them for as long as two weeks.

Leopards exhibit a range of color and pattern variations. Like many species of cats, leopards sometimes exhibit melanism, a genetic mutation that causes the skin and fur of the animal to contain large amounts of the dark pigment called melanin. Melanistic leopards are also known as black leopards. These leopards were once thought to be a separate species from non-melanistic leopards. Upon close inspection, it becomes apparaent that the background coat color is dark but the rosettes and spots are still present, just obscured by the darker undercoat. Leopards living in desert areas tend to be paler yellow in color that those that live in grasslands. Leopards inhabiting grasslands are a deeper golden color.

Classification

Animals > Chordates > Vertebrates > Tetrapods > Amniotes > Mammals > Carnivores > Cats > Leopards

References

Burnie D, Wilson DE. 2001. Animal. London: Dorling Kindersley. 624 p.

Guggisberg C. 1975. Wild Cats of the World. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company.