What’s the difference: panther vs jaguar? It isn’t as straightforward as you may think. It all depends on what you mean by “panther”. In this post, we’ll clarify what a panther is. And then break down key differences between one of the definitions of “panther” and jaguars (and leopards?).
What is a Panther? 4 Explanations (And Common Misconceptions)
Panthers are often thought to be a specific species of big cats. But that isn’t true.
- The term “panther” can be used to describe several animals. The genus Panthera is the genus that has the following five big cats: leopards, lions, jaguars, tigers, and snow leopards.
- “Panther” could also refer to an ancient mythological creature that, while sometimes described as a big cat, may also have different forms. This may even include, among other forms, having a horned head, long neck, and horse’s body. It is described as emitting a sweet smell that draws in prey, eats them, then sleeps in a cave for three days after feeding.
- Some may use “panther” as an interchangeable term for cougars. In fact, one subspecies of cougars is called the Florida panther, found in southern Florida. Despite the term’s usage, the genus for this particular big cat is Puma, and not Panthera. Other names for this animal include puma, mountain lion, catamount, and painter.
- “Panther” may be used to describe color variants of big cats, especially among leopards or jaguars. This would include black and white panthers. This is the explanation that we’ll use for this post.
Is a Jaguar a Panther?
Yes, jaguars belong to the genus Panthera, making it a panther. The four other big cats, leopards, lions, tigers, and snow leopards, are also panthers by classification.
Black jaguars are commonly known as panthers. And more specifically as black panthers.
Is a Leopard a Panther?
Yes, leopards also belong to the genus Panthera, making it a panther. Black leopards are commonly known as black panthers.
What is a Black Panther?
Black panthers are a color variant of either the leopard (Panthera pardus) or the jaguar (Panthera onca). Black panthers are not a single species but a description of these species (leopard or jaguar) with the melanistic color variant (black).
As you can see, the term “black panther” is not very accurate. It is better to use the species name than the broad term of “panther”.
Are All Panthers Black?
No. Panthers can be black, white, or the more common yellowish to dark gold with rosettes or spots.
Coming up now, we’ll be looking at the differences between the jaguar and one of the color variants, the black panther.
Quick Overview: Panther vs Jaguar
Remember: Black panthers are not a single species, but a description of either leopards or jaguars that have the melanistic color variant.
- Latin Name:
- Leopard: Panthera pardus
- Jaguar: Panthera onca
- Black leopards: Kenya, throughout Asia
- Black jaguars: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Paraguay
- Habitat: Hot, thick tropical rainforests
- Leopard Size:
- Length: up to 6 feet (1.83 m)
- Tail Length: up to 40 inches (102 cm)
- Shoulder Height: up to 31 inches (79 cm)
- Weight: up to 200 pounds (91 kg)
- Jaguar Size: See below.
- Key Features: Coat of black or dark brown fur. Spots and rosettes are visible at certain angles and in certain lighting.
- Latin Name: Panthera onca
- Location: Throughout the Americas
- Habitat: Dense forests, wetlands, grasslands
- Length: up to 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
- Tail Length: up to 30 inches (76 cm)
- Shoulder Height: up to 29.5 inches (75 cm)
- Weight: up to 212 pounds (96 kg), though some males have been recorded at 348 pounds (158 kg)
- Key Features: Yellow or tan fur covered by spots and rosettes
Panther vs Jaguar: 7 Differences
1. Biggest Difference: Fur Color
The most obvious difference between black panthers and jaguars is the fur color.
Black panthers have black fur throughout their entire body. This is due to the excess black pigments they have. This coloration is known as melanism.
Jaguars, on the other hand, have yellow or tan fur.
Both panthers and jaguars have rosettes present on their fur, despite the fact they aren’t very visible on black panthers.
2. Genetics: Dominant and Recessive Genes
So why are black panthers black? It comes to genetics.
Dominant Gene: First of all, in black jaguars, the gene needed to make melanistic (or black) fur in their offspring is dominant. That means a black jaguar can produce both black and spotted cubs. To get only spotted from spotted jaguars, they have to be bred together.
Another interesting point with black jaguars is that how many of the melanistic genes will affect how dark they get. If the animal only has one black fur gene, then it will be lighter than those with two of said genes.
Recessive Gene: Black leopards are the complete opposite. That is because the gene needed for them to produce melanism is recessive.
So, if a spotted leopard contains the black fur gene, then it may be able to spawn a black cub. To guarantee that outcome, two black leopards must mate together.
3. Population Numbers
Jaguars are rare enough as it is. Some estimates have about 15,000 jaguars left in the wild. This is unfortunately due to poaching and deforestation. Since jaguars tend to be very elusive, getting an accurate population count can be very difficult, if not impossible.
Black panthers are even rarer. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, only about 11 percent of jaguars and leopards have the melanistic, or excess black pigment, gene.
So to calculate, here are the following estimated population figures of jaguars and leopards that are left:
- Jaguars: 15,000
- African leopards: 14,000
- Indian leopards: 14,000
- Javan leopards: 250
- Arabian leopards: 200
- Persian leopards: 1,300
- Amur leopards: 100
- Indochinese leopards: 2,500
- Sri Lankan leopards: 1,000
That’s a total of around 48,350 total leopards and jaguars left, and 11 percent of that is just over 5,300 black panthers in the world. This is a very rough estimate, but it does give you an idea of just how few of them there are.
Learn more about the animals of the Amazon rainforest.
According to one source, some indigenous people considered black jaguars to be more dangerous than their spotted counterparts.
The same source also says that black leopards are more temperamental than non-melanistic leopards. This has possibly led to them being less fertile than spotted leopards.
5. Size: Panther vs Jaguar
In looking at black leopards to jaguars, there are some differences when it comes to size.
When it comes to their shoulder height and length, the two are very similar.
- Leopards get to 31 inches (79 cm) in height and 6 feet (1.83 m) in length.
- Jaguars can get to 29.5 inches (75cm) in height and 6 feet 1 inch in length (1.85 m).
The big difference comes in tail length and weight.
Leopards have jaguars beat in tail length, outshining them 40 inches (102 cm) to 30 inches (76 cm) respectively.
Jaguars take the crown when it comes to weight.
- The heaviest leopards come in at around 200 pounds (91 kg).
- The biggest recorded male jaguars have come in at 348 pounds (158 kg). Not even close!
While dense forests are preferred by jaguars, they can be found in other areas, like grasslands and wetlands.
Black panthers across species tend to stay in shady areas, like dense forests. Their fur may be an adaptation to their environment that occurred over time.
Depending on the species, black panthers can have a lifespan of 12-17 years.
Jaguars, on the other hand, have lifespans of 12-15 years.
Keep learning about big cats: Cheetah vs Leopards: 14 Key Differences
More reading: Jaguar vs Tiger: 7 Key Differences Compared
Did you know there wasn’t an actual panther species? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!