Panther Vs Leopard: The Main Differences

We’ll start by noting that the term “panther” doesn’t refer to a single species of animal.

This word is occasionally used to refer to mountain lions or cougars, but is primarily used as a name for black or melanistic leopards and jaguars. 

Mountain lions have the world record for the most English names in use.

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Panther Vs Leopard: The Main Differences

These names include the catamount, puma, cougar, mountain lion, and many more.

They are sometimes called panthers, but this term is used less frequently for them, even when they aren’t melanistic. 

For the sake of this article, the term “panther” will be split into two – jaguars and mountain lions.

This makes it easier to track which animal we’re talking about.

The leopard we are referring to in this article is the African leopard and its subspecies, rather than the clouded or snow leopard.

So, if you want to find out more about these three animals, keep reading!

Panther Vs Leopard: The Main Differences

Classification

Panther

Jaguar
  • Also known as: jaguar
  • Average lifespan in the wild: 12-15 years 
  • Scientific name: panthera onca
  • Genus: Panthera
  • Family: Felidae
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Height: 2-3 feet at the shoulder
  • Weight: 220-350 lbs
  • Length: 5-7 feet (head and body); 2-3 feet (tail)
  • Conservation status: varies depending on subspecies, typically near threatened
  • Number of subspecies: 9
Mountain Lion
  • Also known as: puma, cougar, panther, catamount, red tiger, deer tiger, painter
  • Average lifespan in the wild: 10-13 years 
  • Scientific name: puma concolor
  • Genus: Puma
  • Family: Felidae
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Height: 2-3 feet at the shoulder
  • Weight: 64-220 lbs
  • Length: 3.25-5.25 feet (head and body); 23.5-33.5 inches (tail)
  • Conservation status: varies depending on subspecies, typically least concern (population decreasing)
  • Number of subspecies: 7 living subspecies, one extinct

Leopard

  • Also known as: varies depending on subspecies and location
  • Average lifespan in the wild: 12-17 years 
  • Scientific name: panthera pardus
  • Genus: Panthera
  • Family: Felidae
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Height: 2-3 feet at the shoulder
  • Weight: 60-200 lbs
  • Length: 3-6.2 feet (head and body); 3.5-4.5 feet (tail)
  • Conservation status: endangered
  • Number of subspecies: 9

Appearance And Characteristics

Panther

Jaguar
Panther Vs Leopard: The Main Differences

Jaguars have beautiful yellow-tan coats with black rosettes.

The shade of the base color may vary depending on where the animal is located, as jaguars in thick rainforests typically have a more golden color.

Rosettes of jaguars are like jagged black circles with dots of black inside them.

Adults are very muscular and have rounded faces, unlike leopards and mountain lions.

These animals typically stand at 3 feet at the shoulder and can reach lengths of 5-7 feet from their nose to the base of their tail.

The tail can add another 2-3 feet, making a total length of 9-10 feet. They typically weigh between 220-350 lbs. 

As panthers are black or melanistic jaguars, their fur is black rather than the golden coloring. Even when they are black or melanistic, the rosettes are still visible, though less noticeable.

Some animal’s rosettes are more noticeable due to shades of lighter black. 

Mountain Lion

The mountain lion is a large, tan cat with a white or gray belly and chest. However, they are not considered to be one of the “big cats” like jaguars and leopards.

Their color can vary depending on their location in the Americas. They will always be a shade of tan or a tawny brown, unless they have a mutation. 

Mountain lions will also have a few minor black markings. These markings will be around the animal’s snout, the tips of their ears, and the tip of their tail.

Cubs have more black markings than adults, including black spots to aid them with blending into the surroundings.

Adults have eyes that can appear to be a green-brown or yellow color, while cubs have blue eyes.

At the shoulder, these animals only usually reach around 3 feet. They have bodies that reach lengths of around 5 feet, and their tails can be between 23 and 33 inches long.

From nose to the tip of the tail, a mountain lion can measure up to 7.7 feet long, and they can weigh up to 220 lbs.

Leopard

Like jaguars, leopards also have a yellow-tan coat with black rosettes. However, the rosettes of a leopard have no black spots inside them like the jaguar’s.

The shades of brown can vary depending on the environment they are in, such as deserts or forests.

Paler shades are usually seen in desert locations, and richer colors in rainforests, as is the case with jaguars. 

The adults have golden brown eyes, while cubs are born with blue eyes, but eventually turn brown with age.

As panthers are also known as black or melanistic leopards, they have fur that is black rather than the yellow brown coloring.

Even when melanistic, the rosettes are still visible, though less noticeable.

In terms of size, leopards can weigh up to 200lbs, and measure 6.3 feet long. These animals also have extremely long tails, which can be over 4 feet long.

Sounds And Calls

Panther

Jaguar

Jaguars can’t purr like mountain lions. However, they are known to be very vocal animals, and are known to grunt, mew, and roar.

The most notable sound these animals make is referred to as “sawing”. The name comes from the sound, which sounds just like wood being sawed. 

When jaguars greet each other, they will also make a nasally snuffling noise, which is also thought to be used to reassure each other.

Happy jaguars may start “chuffing” to express themselves.

Mountain Lion
Panther Vs Leopard: The Main Differences

Mountain lions can make a range of sounds, but they can’t roar like big cats such as jaguars and leopards. 

A mountain lion will growl and hiss, much like a house cat, and they can also purr.

Both males and females are known for their “scream” that can often be heard in the wilderness. This sounds remarkably like a woman screaming.

The scream is likely the most well-known sound of a cougar, and is something you should always look out for. 

Leopard

Leopards are also known to make a variety of sounds.

Like other big cats, they can’t purr, but will make other sounds including grunting, usually in greeting, and growling when they are threatened.

Leopards will also hiss when they feel threatened, and meow. 

Like jaguars, leopards also have a saw-like sound, which is their long-distance call and common occurrence.

These animal’s roars are very low, almost baritone, and sound hoarse. 

Family

Panther

Jaguar

Jaguars are members of the Felidae, or cat, family. 

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions are also part of the Felidae family.

Leopard

Leopards are in the Felidae family, too, so they are cats.

Habitats And Range

Panther

Jaguar

Jaguars are found only in Central and South America, with a few exceptions in the southernmost states of the United States.

They primarily live in rainforests like the Amazon, or wetlands like the Pantanal.

In fact, the Amazon basin is home to the largest populations of jaguars in the world!

Jaguars can do well in a variety of habitats, including arid scrubland, grasslands, tropical forests and rainforests, mangroves, swamps, mixed conifer forests, and lowland river valleys.

As such, they are good at adapting to new surroundings, which is why they have managed to survive in places like Arizona. 

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions cover a large range – all the way from Alaska to Argentina and southern Chile.

Because of this, they can thrive in a variety of ecosystems as long as there is prey and shelter at their disposal.

Many mountain lions thrive in forests, deserts, wetlands, and mountainous regions.

No matter where they are, cougars typically prefer to stay away from humans and too much development.

This is the case with most animals, but there have been instances, however, where mountain lions are seen close to cities, or in city suburbs.

Leopard

Leopards are actually the most widespread of all big cats! They are found throughout Africa, but also Asia and parts of Europe like Russia.

These animals are found in a wide variety of habitats, including sub-Saharan desert regions, grasslands, wetlands, and rainforests.

Many leopards also do well in mountainous and snowy regions, primarily in Asia and Europe.

Like the jaguar, they are capable of adapting to new surroundings as long as there is prey and shelter in the area. 

Social Behavior

Panther

Jaguar

Jaguars are solitary animals for the majority of their lives. The only time they are not alone is during the mating season and when females are raising their cubs.

These animals typically only need between 10-50 square miles of territory in order to be happy.

However, territory sizes vary depending on where the animal is located.

Mountain Lion

Mountain Lions are solitary animals. This means that they live alone and have their own territories.

The only time that these animals don’t live alone is during the mating season and when the female is caring for her cubs.

When solitary, these animals need between 50 and 125 square miles to roam, with males preferring more space.

Leopard

Panther Vs Leopard: The Main Differences

Leopards are solitary animals and only spend time with others when mating or caring for their cubs.

The size of these animals’ territory can vary greatly, from as little as a few square miles to a hundred square miles, depending on the available prey. 

Diet

Panther

Jaguar

Jaguars are obligate carnivores. This means that they can only get the nutrients they need from meat rather than vegetation.

Popular jaguar prey include tapirs, caiman, capybaras, and deer.

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions are obligate carnivores. This means that they can only get the nutrients they need from meat rather than vegetation. 

Mountain lions will typically hunt for things like deer or sheep, but will also eat smaller animals like mice and rabbits when available.

Leopard

Leopards are obligate carnivores. This means that they can only get the nutrients they need from meat rather than vegetation.

Leopards will primarily prey on antelope such as impala, bushbuck, and kudu.

They are famous for pulling their catches into trees to keep it away from lions, hyenas, and other carnivores that are not capable climbers.

Breeding

Panther

Jaguar

Jaguars will only reproduce every two years once they reach sexual maturity, which is when they are 2-4 years old.

They have no set mating season and can mate at any time of the year.

They have a gestation period of only 100 days, then the female will give birth to a litter of 2-4 cubs.

The cubs will remain with her for the first year of their life until they are able to take care of themselves.

Some cubs will stay with their mother for up to two years before parting ways.

Mountain Lion

There is no set breeding or mating season for mountain lions, sating can happen at any time of year.

However, the majority of mountain lion births take place in the late winter or early spring. Females will breed every two years.

These animals have a gestation period of 90 to 96 days, then will give birth to 1-5 cubs. These cubs will stay with her until they are ready to live on their own. 

Leopard

Females reach sexual maturity at 2-2 ½ year old, and males at 1 ½ years old. These animals do not have a set breeding season, and mating can happen at any time.

They have a gestation period of 90-105 days, after which the female will give birth to between 2-6 cubs.

These cubs will stay with their mother for approximately two years, until they can fend for themselves. 

Who Would Win In A Fight?

The jaguar would win in a fight against a mountain lion and a leopard. Jaguars are much stronger, but it would be a close fight.

Final Thoughts 

There are some key differences between jaguars, mountain lions, and leopards.

Appearance-wise, leopards and jaguars have spots and rosettes, even when they are black, and mountain lions do not.

Leopards also bring their kills into trees, which neither of the other two animals are known for doing. 

The biggest difference between these animals is their location. Both jaguars and mountain lions (i.e. the “panthers” in this article), are found in the Americas.

Leopards, on the other hand, are spread across Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe.  

Joe Edwards
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