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Black panther – myths and facts

Black panther – facts and myths

Many people have wondered which of the big cats is called the black panther and if it’s a separate species.


The black panther is a so called melanistic cat. Melanism is characterized by brown or black skin coloration. It is caused by the presence of an increased amount of melanin (dark pigment). Melanism occurs both in vertebrates and invertebrates. It is either a form of adaptation to the environment (protective function) or a medical condition.

Melanism occurs, for example, in foxes. The silver fox, for instance, is a melanistic form of the red fox.

Black panther
The black panther is a melanistic leopard, jaguar or Jaguarundi. There are no black cougars.

Melanism of jaguars

Melanism in jaguars is caused by a dominant alternative form of a gene, and in case of the leopard – by a recessive form of a gene.

If you’re interested in the subject of genetics, we suggest you explore the term allele (one of forms of the same gene that differs in one or several nucleotides).

In natural environment melanistic cats (black panthers) occur more often among cats inhabiting thick forests (less access to light) than open areas.

Black panther
Offspring of a black panther may be both black and spotted.

Which cats are black panthers?

The black panther is usually:

  • The jaguar (Panthera onca) occurring in South America and Central America, or
  • The leopard (Panthera pardus) occurring mainly in Africa and Asia.

When it comes to smaller cats that may be melanistic, the jaguarondi (Puma yagouaroundi), which lives in South America, is worth mentioning. It is a small, 53-77-cm-long, cat of a weight of 3.5 to 9 kg.

Black tigers

It is also said that there are rare cases of black tigers, but we are not able to confirm this fact.

Black panther
Black panther

Black cougar – does it exist?

Our readers have often asked if there are black cougars. There is no confirmed information about melanism among cougars. Therefore, we have to clearly state that black cougars don’t exist.

Are all individuals from one litter born black?

For people who are familiar with Mendel the answer will be clear – not necessarily. In one litter there may be both black and typically colored (spotted) leopards or jaguars.

Black panther
You mustn’t forget that the black panther is a dangerous and fierce cat.

Leopard – black panther

In nature, black panthers among leopards mostly occur in thick forests of south-western China, Myanmar (Burma), and Nepal. They also live in southern India – Travancore, and a north-eastern state Assam, located at the foot of the Himalayas.

Black leopards are also common on Java, and in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula, where they may be more prevalent than spotted panthers. These animals rarely occur in Africa, although there are some reports on the presence of black leopards in Ethiopia (former Abyssinia), in the forests of Mount Kenya, and in Aberdares. One of black leopards was recorded in the equatorial forests of Cameroon.

Fur color of the black leopard

The fur color of the black leopard is a mix of colors: blue, black, grey and purple.

Black panther
Black panthers in captivity are smaller and have more delicate appearance than spotted cats.

Black panther in captivity

In zoos, black panthers are mostly represented by a leopard, and rarely by a jaguar. Black leopards in captivity have been selectively bred over years. These cats are smaller and have more delicate appearance than spotted individuals. Black leopards are also characterized by lower fertility.

Black panther
Black panther

Jaguar – black panther

In the case of the jaguar, melanism is a dominant feature (see above). Therefore, the offspring of black jaguars may be spotted or be black as well. However, spotted parents can only have spotted offspring.

The jaguars whose both parents are dark, are practically black, while the offspring of a mixed couple (a spotted jaguar and black jaguar) is charcoal, not black. In such individuals, spots may be also visible, as in the picture below.

The black jaguar was considered a separate species by the indigenous people of the regions in which the animal occurred.

The jaguar whose parents aren’t black, isn’t completely black. Its fur is dark brown and you can see spots.
The jaguar whose parents aren’t black, isn’t completely black. Its fur is dark brown and you can see spots.

Black panther in literature

  • Guenhwyvar – “Forgotten Realms” by Robert Anthony Salvatore
  • Bagheera – “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Black Panther – a comic by Marvel Comics
Black panther
Black panther in captivity is mostly the leopard, not the jaguar.

Black lion?

Don’t be fooled by fake pictures of black lions. Below we present an example that circulates all over the Internet as a single picture of a black lion.

Remember – there are no black lions, but there are white lions.

Black lion
There are no black lions in nature, but they are in Photoshop 🙂
Black lion
Black lions do not exist.


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