Though people choose tattoo designs for a variety of personal reasons and no symbol is entirely universal in meaning, a black panther tattoo often represents strength, courage and independence. Prominent in Central and South American mythology, the panther is considered a powerful spirit animal with mystical qualities, according to The Vanishing Tattoo.
In many cultures, animals are the most frequent subject matter of tattooing, as they are traditionally associated with magic, totems and the person's desire to become identified with the spiritual qualities of the animal. The Vanishing Tattoo shares that in pre-Colombian civilizations, the black panther was commonly associated with shamans, as the cats were believed to possess the ability to travel between worlds. Black panthers were thought to be shape-shifters.
In contemporary culture, the black panther tattoo in which a snarling, curved cat climbs with extended claws was popularized in the early 1900s by American tattoo artist Amund Dietzel. Dietzel borrowed the iconic design from the illustrations of Marie Schubert found in a 1934 children's book, "Minute Myths and Legends: Dramatic Moments in the Affairs of the Gods, Arch-Demons, Goddesses, Demi-Gods and Heroes of This and Other Worlds," according to TattooSymbol.com.
On a practical level, Tattoo.Symbol.com relates, the contours of a panther tattoo make it ideal for placement over the musculature of the human body, particularly the arms and legs.