A black panther is a large black cat, typically a melanistic colour variant of any of several species of larger cat. Wild black panthers in Latin America are black jaguars (Panthera onca), in Asia and Africa they are black leopards (Panthera pardus), and in North America they may be black jaguars or possibly black cougars (Puma concolor – although this has not been proven to have a black variant), or smaller cats.
Black panthers are also reported as cryptids in areas such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, and for these, if they do exist, the species is not known. Captive black panthers may be black jaguars, or more commonly black leopards. Black panthers have sometimes been regarded as forming different species from their normally-colored relatives.
The name "panther" is often limited to the black variants of the species, but also commonly refers to those that are normally-colored (tawny or spotted), or to white color variants: white panthers.
Melanism in the jaguar (Panthera onca), is conferred by a dominant allele, and in the leopard (Panthera pardus) by a recessive allele. Close examination of the color of these black cats will show that the typical markings are still there, but are hidden by the excess black pigment melanin, giving an effect similar to that of printed silk. Melanistic and non-melanistic animals can be littermates. Albino or leucistic individuals of the same species are known as white panthers.
It is thought that melanism may confer a selective advantage under certain conditions since it is more common in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Recent, preliminary studies also suggest that melanism might be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.
Black leopards are reported from most densely forested areas in southwestern China, Myanmar, Assam and Nepal, from Travancore and other parts of southern India and are said to be common in Java and the southern part of the Malay Peninsula where they may be more numerous than spotted leopards. They are less common in tropical Africa, but have been reported from Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia), from the forests of Mount Kenya and from the Aberdares. One was recorded by Peter Turnbull-Kemp in the equatorial forest of Cameroon. Skin color is a mixture of blue, black, gray, and purple with rosettes.
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