Black panthers look like their non-black cat relations, which are typically leopards and jaguars. The name black panther has not been used by those working with big cats since the 1960s.
While the term black panther is associated with various global political movements, it is also used colloquially to describe a particular type of big cat that is black in color. The cats that fall into the category are usually leopards and jaguars, which are part of the genus Panthera. The genus includes a number of species that have similar cranial structures. The entire genus includes:
- Snow leopards
The name black panther, as it has been used to describe a subset of big cats that have all black coloration, may have derived as a shortened version of Panthera. The term panther is commonly used to describe pumas in North America.
The coloration is due to a melanistic variant, which is most common in jaguars due to a dominant gene mutation. Examination reveals that the typical jaguar spot pattern exists within the dark coloration. Black jaguars are capable of producing both black and spotted cubs, while some spotted jaguars can produced black cubs if the gene is dominant enough.
Black leopards are the most common black panther in captivity and are often bred for the characteristic. The spotted pattern is also visible on black leopards, whose skin is often a mixture of blue, black and gray with purple rosettes.