Panther is a general term used to describe various types of wild cats, some big and some small.
The word “panther” comes from the Latin word “panthēra,” which comes from the Greek word “pánthēr,” a term that means “large spotted cat.”
Panthera is a biological classification, a genus within the Felidae family and Pantherinae subfamily. Members of the Panthera genus include the lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard – the only wild cats that roar. The word “panther’ is also similar to pundarikam, which is Sanskrit for tiger.
Wild cats that have a dark (melanistic) color are often referred to as “panthers” or “black panthers,” including big and small wild cats such as jaguars, leopards and jaguarundi. The word “melanin” means black or dark, and refers to naturally occurring pigments that can be found in organisms.
If you look closely at a melanistic cat’s skin, you will see the markings typically associated with that species. Large black (melanistic) wild cats in captivity are usually leopards or jaguars.
Because most melanistic wild cats were found in jungles with less light than other types of environments, it was believed that the melanism (dark coloring) was an inherited trait or condition that aided the cat’s survival – an evolutionary process of natural selection. New research suggests that melanism might be a helpful immune system mutation.
A litter can include both melanistic and non-melanistic cats.
Photo of a Black Jaguar
White panthers can refer to white cougars, white leopards and white jaguars. The white condition can occur for different reasons, including:
- Leucism – a reduction in pigmentation
- Albinism – the absence of pigmentation
- Genetic mutation
Unlike black panthers, the occurence of white panthers is not the result of natural selection.
The Florida panther is a subspecies of the cougar that inhabits southern Florida in the United States. Florida panthers are an endangered species – less than 100 are believed to exist in the wild.