Panthera is a genus of the family Felidae (the cats), which contains four well-known living species: the tiger, the lion, the jaguar, and the leopard. The genus comprises about half of the Pantherinae subfamily, the big cats. One meaning of the word panther is to designate cats of this subfamily.
Only the four Panthera cat species have the anatomical structure which enables them to roar. The primary reason for this was formerly assumed to be the incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone. However, new studies show that the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx. The snow leopard, Uncia uncia, which is sometimes included within Panthera, does not roar. Although it has an incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone, it lacks the special morphology of the larynx.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the origin of the word is unknown. A folk etymology derives the word from the Greek πάν pan- ("all") and thēr ("beast of prey") because they can hunt and kill almost everything. The Greek word πάνθηρ, pánthēr, referred to all spotted Felidae generically. Although it came into English through the classical languages, some believe panthera could be of Sanskrit origin, meaning "the yellowish animal," or "whitish-yellow."
Like much of the Felidae family, Panthera has been subject to much debate and taxonomic revision. At the base of the genus is probably the extinct felid Viretailurus schaubi, which is also regarded as an early member of the genus Puma. Panthera has likely derived in Asia, but the definite roots of the genus remain unclear. The divergence of the Pantherine cats (including the living genera Panthera, Uncia, and Neofelis) from the subfamily Felinae (including all other living cat species) has been ranked between six and ten million years ago. The fossil record points to the emergence of Panthera just 2 to 3.8 million years ago.
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