Black Panther - Do they really exist? If so, what are they?
Learn about the Leopard, Jaguar, Mountain Lion, and Jaguarundi.
Enjoy color photographs of the above mentioned species.
Black panther, a big cat (of any species, but most commonly a jaguar or a leopard) whose coloration is entirely black. This may have originated from the Latin name Panthera for the big cats and was probably shortened from Black Panthera to Black Panther.
The Black Panther
The black panther is the common name for a black specimen (a melanistic variant) of any of several species of cats.
Zoologically speaking, the term panther is synonymous with leopard. The genus name Panthera is a taxonomic category that contains all the species of a particular group of felids. In North America, the term panther is commonly used for the puma; in Latin America it is most often used to mean a jaguar. Elsewhere in the world it refers to the leopard (originally individual animals with longer tails were deemed panthers and others were leopards; it is a common misconception that the term panther necessarily refers a melanistic individual).
Melanism is most common in jaguars (Panthera onca) – where it is due to a dominant gene mutation – and leopards (Panthera pardus) – where it is due to a recessive gene mutation. Close examination of one of these black cats will show that the typical markings are still there, and are simply hidden by the surplus of the black pigment melanin. Cats with melanism can co-exist with litter mates that do not have this condition. In cats that hunt mainly at night the condition is not detrimental. White panthers also exist, these being albino or leucistic individuals of the same three species.
It is probable that melanism is a favorable evolutionary mutation with a selective advantage under certain conditions for its possessor, since it is more commonly found in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Melanism can also be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.