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Leopard

Characteristics

Compared to other members of the Felidae family, the Leopard has relatively short legs and a long body with a large skull. It looks similar to the jaguar but is smaller and more slightly built. The fur is marked with rosettes similar to those of the jaguar but the Leopard's rosettes are smaller and more densely packed and do not usually have central spots as the jaguar's do. Together the Leopards and Jaguars are known as Black Panthers. Although smaller than the other members of the Panthera genus, because of its massive skull that well utilizes powerful jaw muscles it’s able to take large prey. Its body is comparatively long for a cat and its legs are short. The length of the head and body is between 125 and 165 cm (centimeters) and the tail reaches from 60 to 110 cm. The shoulder height is 45 to 80 cm. The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally strong, which enhances the Leopard's ability to climb trees.

Leopards are diverse when it comes to sizes. The males are about 30% larger than females and weigh from 30 to 91 kg (kilograms) compared to the females who weigh 23 to 60 kg. 

Interestingly the Leopards show a great diversity in physical appearance, particularly because of the wide variations in color coat and rosette patterns. The Leopard's rosettes are circular in East Africa but fascinatingly tend to be squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations. The Leopard's yellow coat tends to be paler and cream colored in desert populations, more gray in colder climates and of a darker golden hue in rainforest habitats. Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter colored and of a softer, downy type. Solid black spots in place of open rosettes are generally seen along the face, limbs and underbelly.

A melanistic morph of the Leopard occurs, particularly in mountainous areas and the rain forests. The black color is heritable and caused by recessive gene loci. Although the benefits of melanism are difficult to interpret, it may serve as camouflage in the rainforest habitat.

In Africa, black Leopards are much less common as melanism is not an adaptive advantage on the savannah, dark coloration provides poor camouflage and makes hunting difficult. In the dense forests of the Ethiopian Highlands, however, the black Leopard is much more common than in Africa.