What is a “Black Panther”?

Thanks to the success of a certain movie (can you guess its name?) there has been some renewed interest lately in the animal known as the black panther. But what exactly is a “black panther”?

A black panther is a specific color morph that occurs in two species of “Big Cat” – the jaguar in the Americas, and the leopard in Africa and Asia. These cats are usually yellow in coloration with a distinctive pattern of black “rosette” spots. However, occasionally these cats are born with a condition known as melanism, which causes their fur to be very dark in color.

Melanism occurs when a certain combination of genes in the parent animal results in an overproduction of the pigment melanin in their offspring. Melanin is the pigment responsible for coloration in mammals, and lots of melanin results in a darker color. The opposite condition, known as amelanism, often leads to an animal that is lighter or white in color.

 

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Black Panther (Leopard) Black Panther (Jaguar)

 

Every so often, a leopard or jaguar is born with much darker fur than most of its kind. It isn’t a totally different species, and these cats are in fact no different from other jaguars and leopards other than their fur color. Black panthers can even have littermates that are not melanistic, meaning their brothers and sisters can be typical spotted big cats. Though we don’t recommend getting too close to jaguars or leopards, their distinctive spots can actually be seen even in cases of black panthers. They just don’t stand out as much against the overall darker fur.

Black panthers make for striking symbols, and have been used to represent everything from sports teams to superheroes to political organizations. Though the reality is that they are no different than their spotted brothers and sisters, the image of the black panther has been an enduring symbol of strength against oppression.

 

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