Black Panther

By Kathy Kranking; photos provided by Nature Picture Library

The new Black Panther movie is coming in November. But you can meet the REAL black panther right now!

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Watching you with its yellow eyes, this black panther is beautiful, mysterious, and just as cool as any movie character. And, like many superheroes, it also has a secret identity.

But to understand that, there’s something you need to know: There really isn’t a species of wild cat called the black panther.


It’s true. The name “black panther” is given to several kinds of wild cats when they are born with black coats—though most often, a black “panther” is a dark-colored leopard or jaguar. The secret identity of the black panther here? A leopard!

Now you’re probably wondering why some leopards and jaguars are black and others aren’t. All animals make stuff in their bodies called melanin (MEL-uhnin). Melanin gives dark coloring to skin, hair, feathers, and other body parts. Sometimes, an animal’s body makes more melanin than the bodies of others do.That makes the animal black, or melanistic (mel-uh-NIS-tik). Only about 10 percent of all leopards and jaguars are black panthers—these special cats are rare!

Pounce over to the next page to learn more.

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Like all jaguars, the black ones live in Central and South America and Mexico. Leopards live in Africa and Asia. Though black leopards and jaguars look as if they were solid black, they do actually have spots called rosettes that are very hard to see. But if the sun hits a black panther’s fur in the right way, they show up. These strong, graceful cats are fast runners. They’re also good swimmers, though jaguars spend more time in the water than leopards do. And both can climb trees, but leopards hang out in trees more than jaguars like to. Leopards have extra-long tails, which help the cats balance as they climb around in trees.


As you might guess, leopards and jaguars are fierce predators. Of the two, jaguars are heavier and more powerful. Their big jaws give them the strongest bite of any cat. Since these two cats live in different parts of the world, they prey on different animals. Jaguars eat animals such as turtles, snakes, and alligator-like reptiles called caimans (KAY-muhns). Leopards eat almost anything they can catch, including gazelles and other antelopes, birds, and even fish. They’ll often haul their catch up into a tree to keep it away from larger predators, such as lions.

Tap image for a closer look.


Like other leopards and jaguars, black panthers live alone, defending their territories against other leopards and jaguars. But there is a time when they hang out together, and that’s mating time.

A female black panther usually has two to four cubs at a time. The cubs may be black, or they may be golden. (Likewise, black panther cubs may be born to golden parents.)

The cubs are blind for the first two weeks of their lives. But they grow quickly, and when they are just two or three months old, they begin going on hunting trips with their mom. They’ll stay with her for up to two years, learning important wild cat lessons. Then it’s time for them to strike out on their own.

And their mom? She’ll go back to prowling alone—the mysterious, majestic black panther way.


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