Wild cats are fierce animals that inspire many of us across the globe. The black panther is surely one of them. This cat was chosen to be the name of a revolutionary political party and even a Marvel superhero. Now that’s pretty awesome.
How much do we really know about this big cat? Many of us have imagined a black panther’s mysterious and fierce nature. Yet, most of us don’t really know if this cat is real or just a mythical cat that lurks in jungles far away.
Continue reading to discover all the facts about black panthers!
The Black Panther isn’t actually a species…
The secret is out. The black panther isn’t a species of cat. Panther, in general, refers to the genus panthera. This genus encompasses jaguars, lions, leopards, and tigers. So, technically all of these cats are panthers (although we don’t really say that because that would be a little too confusing, right?)
So, how can you tell that all these cats are panthers? Generally speaking, animals under the panthera genus share similarly shaped skulls. Also, all these cats have larger vocal folds, a key physical trait that allows these cats to roar. Yes – panthers are the only cats who can roar!
What is a Black Panther then?
A black panther is still a panther. It just is a melanistic version of the panther. This means that the cat expresses dark pigments in their coat, depending on their genetic makeup. It all comes down to a funny thing called alleles. Alleles are variations of genes that can cause mutations, such as changes in fur pigment.
Leopards and jaguars are usually ‘mistaken’ as black panthers
Not every panther can be a black panther. In fact, the melanistic attribute of these cats only affects maybe 5 percent of panthers.
Almost always, leopards and jaguars will have the alleles necessary to create dark pigment in their fur. This is also why black panthers look almost identical, making you think that this cat is in fact a species of its own.
If you want to get nerdy about genetics, we have a fun fact for you. Leopards require recessive alleles to gain a dark-furred coat while jaguars need to have dominant alleles in order to produce dark pigment in their fur. That’s because each species is unique and requires a different genetic makeup to produce darker pigment in its coat.
These cats do have rosettes, you just can’t usually see them!
What do leopards and jaguars both have? Pretty rosettes on their fur. While each cat has different kinds of rosettes, these rosettes don’t just go away when a cat has darker fur. If you look closely at a black panther, you will most likely see their rosettes. Of course, we don’t advise getting too close to one of these big cats. Just wait until the sun shines on their fur and you will probably get a glimpse of their fur pattern.
The Florida Panther isn’t a panther (and cannot be a black panther, either…)
Something that is often very confusing is how the Florida Panther isn’t entirely a panther. The Florida Panther is a puma concolor, or a cougar. These cats live in, you might have guessed it, Florida.
It is extremely rare to find a black cougar, although people have claimed to spot black Florida Panthers before. It all really remains a mystery!
No matter what you call them, these cats need our protection
All of the panthera cats, leopards, jaguars, lions, and tigers included, need our help to sustain their populations. Each cat has a unique endangered status, but all of them are classified as endangered to a certain degree.
There are several causes behind the endangerment of these animals. From deforestation to poaching, these majestic cats are seeing their populations decrease annually. As cat lovers, we should help support and protect these beautiful big cats. They may be big and fierce, but they can’t protect themselves from everything.
To learn more about how to help protect cats from the panthera genus, there are several organizations working to protect these cats locally and internationally. The WWF is always a great source to start with.
So, did you learn something new about black panthers? We sure hope so. It’s pretty fascinating how a cat can be born with a wholly unique look. With only around 5 percent of panthers having the genetics necessary to have black fur, we can 100 percent say that being a black panther is something special.