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A Black Jaguar
Von B-F-G; used with permission
The term black panther refers to both leopards (panthera pardus) and jaguars (panthera onca) with black fur color, but actually the word comes from the Latin and means leopard. However, in the course of time the term black panther has caught on for both big cat species. This can definitely lead to misunderstandings also because some people only know the black panther as leopard, some others only as jaguar.

The black leopard's and black jaguar's fur color varies from dark brown to black whereas the common leopards and jaguars are yellowish and white. If the exposure to light is opportune, the rosettes can still be spotted. A certain kind of melanism is responsible for the unusual dark coloration, therefore, the black panthers are not a species itself but a special kind of leopards respectively jaguars.

Black Leopard

A black leopard is characterized by its untypical black fur color which is caused by a recessively inherited gene, thus, the gene can also be present in normally colored leopards but loses its effectivity due to the dominant gene which is responsible for the yellowish coloration. Moreover, the recessive gene can be inherited so that in one litter there can be cubs with normal and with dark coloration.
If the light incidence is diagonal, the rosettes can be spotted quite easily despite the black fur. That's because the fur color is not quite black but rather dark brown. A black leopard is also known as melanic leopard.

Black Jaguar

A black jaguar (also melanic jaguar) is just as the black leopard characterized by its unusual dark fur color. Normally, the jaguar's fur is yellowish or orange-hued and has black rosettes on it. In the middle of those rosettes, there is another dark point. Like the black leopard's also the black jaguar's rosettes can be spotted if the light incidence is opportune. In contrast to the black leopard, the black jaguar's coloration is caused by an inherited dominant gene.

Reasons of Dark Coloration

As mentioned before, the black color is caused by particular genes. They increase the production of melanin which is relayed to the hair by melanocytes (pigment cells). We differentiate between eumelanin which turns the hair dark brown or black and phaeomelanin which provokes a yellowish respectively orange-hued fur color. This special kind of dark coloration is called melanism.


Black Leopard by Martin Heigan (flickr)
Black Jaguar by redbeard31 (flickr, deviantArt)
Letzte Bearbeitung: 19:17, 01 Jul 2011 - Geo

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