African leopards and cheetahs are both found in the African wild. What’s the difference between leopard and cheetah species? In this post, you’ll learn 14 key differences between cheetah vs leopard. They include size, spot patterns, diet, speeds, habitat and more. Plus lots of comparison photos.
Quick Overview: Cheetah vs Leopard
- Latin Name: Panthera pardus pardus
- Location: Throughout Africa
- Habitat: can live in a large variety of habitats, like mountains to savannahs to rocky areas
- Size: some estimates of over 6 ft (1.8 m) long excluding tail, around 2.5 feet/31 inches tall (79 cm), 201 pounds (91 kg)
- Key Features: Long tail up to 40 inches (102 cm), great climbers
- Latin Name: Acinonyx jubatus
- Location: Throughout Africa and Iran
- Habitat: variety of habitats, including savannahs, dry mountain ranges, hilly deserts
- Size: up to 4 ft 11 in (1.5 m) long excluding tail (tail is up to 31 in (79 cm)), just over 3 feet (0.9 m) shoulder height, 159 pounds (72 kg)
- Key Features: Fast. I mean, very fast. Like, supercar fast (at least in acceleration). 0-60 mph in three seconds.
14 Differences: Leopard vs Cheetah
Leopards and cheetahs are both from the Felidae family. They both can be found throughout Africa. But there are quite a few differences between these two cats.
The following are 14 differences between leopards and cheetahs:
1. Distinct Genus: Leopard vs Cheetah
African leopards are in the Panthera genus. They’re included with the following big cats: lions, tigers, snow leopards, and jaguars. Genus is one of the many ways living things are categorized. Genus is ranked just above species and below family.
Cheetahs are in the Acinonyx genus. In fact, they’re the only living species found in this genus. Cheetahs are, however, in the subfamily Felinae, which includes such cats as the ocelot and cougar.
This difference actually ties into the next point.
One reason African leopards are in the genus Panthera is that they are one of the few big cats that can roar.
African leopards can do so because of a ligament they have in their larynx, or voice box. Only snow leopards have the distinction of not being able to roar in the genus Panthera.
Cheetahs are in the Felinae subfamily. Why is this important to know? Because these felines have the ability to purr, but not roar.
Cheetahs can do so because they have a voice box that makes a fixed structure, similar to house cats. This structure allows cheetahs to purr continuously, as their vocal cords vibrate with their in and out breaths.
3. “Spot” the Difference: Distinct Patterns
There are differences in the markings between leopards and cheetahs.
African leopards have an interesting design, in that some of their markings have a dark outer edge and a lighter color in the middle. Other markings on these leopards are a solid dark color. These have been described as having a rose-like appearance.
Cheetahs, on the other hand, have solid markings on their body. The markings are usually round or oval-shaped.
These two big cats also have interesting and different mutations when it comes to their fur.
- Black African leopards, also known as black panthers, occur because of excessive black pigments, but they’ll still have their rosette markings.
- King cheetahs have an interesting mutation where they have dark splothches on their bodies instead of spots and black stripes on their backs. Learn more about them here.
Keep reading: What’s the Difference: Panther vs Jaguar?
Size Comparisons: Leopard vs Cheetah: In general, African leopards are bigger than cheetahs.
The following points break down each size difference.
4. Length Comparison: Leopard vs Cheetah
African leopards are longer than cheetahs.
- African leopards can get to over 6 feet (1.8 m) long. Some estimates have them up to 6.5 feet (2 m) long, while the biggest reported leopard came in at around 8 ft 10 in (2.7 m) when it was hunted down back in 1913.
- Cheetahs can grow up to 5 feet in length (1.5 m).
5. Weight Comparison: Cheetah vs Leopard
- Adult African leopards weigh between 130 to 143 pounds (59 to 65 kg) for males. However, the heaviest on record was one in Namibia at 212 pounds (96 kg).
- Cheetahs have a weight range of 75 to 140 pounds (34 to 64 kg), slightly lighter than leopards.
6. Height Comparison: Leopard vs Cheetah
Here’s where things are different, as cheetahs are actually taller than African leopards.
- At the shoulder, African leopards can get around 2.5 feet tall, or 31 inches (79 cm).
- Cheetahs can get to just over 3 feet tall, 37 inches (94 cm), at the shoulders.
7. Tails Comparison: Leopard vs Cheetah
Leopards trump cheetahs once again.
- African leopards can have tails up to 40 inches (102 cm) long, which is longer than they are in height.
- Cheetahs have shorter tails, coming in at 31 inches (79 cm).
8. Speed and Acceleration!
As seen, African leopards have a beefier body than cheetahs. This plays into their running speed.
An African leopard has a top speed of 36 mph (58 km/h). This is significantly slower than a cheetah.
Cheetahs are built for speed. They have been clocked at 76 mph (122 km/h) for a short sprint of 1480 feet. This makes them the fastest land animal in the world. They can also run an average speed of 40 mph (64 km/h).
Cheetahs can also accelerate quickly to that speed, going from 0-60 mph (0-96.5 km/h) in about three seconds.
When it comes to an actual recorded speed, the fastest recorded speed for a cheetah is 61 mph (98 km/h) for 100 meter dash.
9. Climbing and Jumping
Not to be outdone, African leopards have a special skill of their own. They are excellent climbers.
They can jump over 10 feet (3 m) vertically, will rest up in trees, and climb down from there leading with their heads.
10. Retractable Claws
A simple distinction between these two big cats comes in regarding their claws.
African leopards have retractable claws.
Cheetahs don’t have claws that can retract. As mentioned above, cheetahs are built for speed. So it’s useful for them to have their claws out all the time for better grip and traction.
11. The Difference is Night and Day!
This is a big difference between leopards and cheetahs.
African leopards are mainly nocturnal, or come out at night.
Cheetahs are mainly diurnal, meaning they are usually active during the day, particularly during dawn and dusk. However, they can be found sleeping away the hot afternoon sun.
Hunting and Diet: African leopards and cheetahs have some similar hunting habits and diets. They both stalk or ambush their prey.
The hunt itself doesn’t last long for either cat.
- African leopards will pounce on their unsuspecting prey.
- Cheetahs will engage in a very quick hunt after stalking their prey, giving up quickly if they’re not successful right away.
Leopards and cheetahs also have some similar prey. For example, they may both prey on medium-sized prey, such as gazelles and impalas. Learn more about the types of African antelope.
The differences come in with when they hunt, how they kill their prey and even some variances in diet.
12. Hunting Habits: Leopard vs Cheetah
Being nocturnal, African leopards typically hunt between sunset and sunrise, or overnight.
They can usually kill their prey quickly, with just one bite to the neck. Being great climbers, they may even hide their food up trees to store for a later time.
Cheetahs usually hunt during the day, particularly around dawn or dusk. Cheetahs also aren’t as strong as leopards, so they may suffocate their prey for around 5 minutes.
Smaller prey may be killed right away. Cheetahs may drag their kills to near a tree or bush to rest after the chase.
13. Diet: Leopard vs Cheetah
As mentioned, African leopards and cheetahs have similar diets in certain things. However, leopards have certain prey that cheetahs don’t hunt.
They have a wide range of prey depending on availability. They may feed on anything from fish and reptiles to baboons and warthogs.
Leopards may even attack and eat cheetahs that come into their territory.
Here’s more about the smallest antelopes in Africa.
14. Home Sweet Home
African leopards live in a vast area, covering a good portion of East, West, Central, and southern Africa. They can be found in hot and cold climates, being adaptable.
While they live in a variety of habitats, anywhere from the savannah, to mountains and rainforests, African leopards tend to prefer living in rockier areas that have riverine forests and dense bush.
Cheetahs have a more limited living area, with smaller pockets of land compared to leopards. Like leopards, they can be found throughout Africa in a variety of habitats like mountains and savannahs, though rarely in tropical forests.
A cheetah’s ideal habitat would be an open area where they can utilize their speed to give chase, with some cover for stalking their prey.
Learn about cheetah cubs: 14 Cute Baby Cheetah Facts
More reading: Jaguar vs Tiger: 7 Key Differences Compared
What do you think about African leopards and cheetahs? Which one do you like better? What did we miss? Leave your thoughts and comments below!