Snow Leopard

Scientific name: Panthera uncia

Snow Leopard - Panthera uncia
Snow Leopard - Panthera uncia. Photo © Daniel J. Cox / Getty Images.

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a large species of cat that inhabits the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia, including the Hindu Kush, Altai Mountains, and the Himalayas. The snow leopard is well adapted to the cold temperatures that are found in its high-altitude habitat. The snow leopard's coat is plush and provides superb insulation—the fur on a snow leopard's back is one inch long, the tail fur is two inches long, and the fur on its belly can be as long as three inches.

Snow leopards are stocky in build and have small, rounded ears.

The coat of a snow leopard is a warm gray color on the back, fading to white on the belly. The coat is covered with dark rosettes on the body and black spots on the head, legs, and tail. The tail of the snow leopard is quite long when compared to that of other cats, its tail can be equal in length to its body. The snow leopard's long tail serves dual adaptive purposes. First, it provides much needed insulation, the snow leopard covers its face with its tail to keep the cold out. Second, the tail serves as a counterweight to help the snow leopard balance as it jumps over rough terrain.

Snow leopards are solitary animals throughout most of the year but they do form pairs during the mating season. The mating season lasts from December through March. Snow leopards do not roar, although they are classified within the Panthera, a group also referred to as the roaring cats which includes lions, leopards, tigers, and jaguars.

Despite not roaring, snow leopards do possess the anatomical features thought to enable roaring. These features include an elongated larynx and hyoid apparatus.

Snow leopards are native to the mountain ranges throughout central and southern Asia. The countries they inhabit include Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Although their range is extensive, they inhabit only a small percentage of the area. They prefer habitats between 8,900 feet and 19,700 feet. During winter months, snow leopards often descend as low as 4,000 feet in search of food. Snow leopards occur in isolated patches and along narrow corridors of mountainous habitat.

Snow leopards establish a home range but they do not defend this territory aggressively. They follow paths through their territory that them mark with scent (urine or scat). Snow leopards hunt a variety of large animals such as deer, wild boars, monkeys, marmots, rodents, and Siberian ibex.

Classification

Snow leopards are classified within the following taxonomic hierarchy:

Animals > Chordates > Vertebrates > Tetrapods > Amniotes > Mammals > Carnivores > Cats > Panthers > Snow Leopard

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.

Toriello K. 2002. Uncia uncia, Animal Diversity Web. December 13, 2007.