Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Length: 3 to 6 feet (91 to 191 centimeters); tail 23 to 44 inches (58 to 110 centimeters)
Weight: males—80 to 200 pounds (36 to 90 kilograms); females—62 to 132 pounds (28 to 60 kilograms)
Life span: 12 to 15 years in the wild, up to 23 years in zoos
Gestation: 3 to 3.5 months
Number of young at birth: 1 to 6, but usually 2 to 3 in a litter
Size at birth: 1 pound (0.5 kilograms)
Age of maturity: 3 years
Conservation status: all eight subspecies of leopards are endangered.
Although snow leopards Panthera unica and clouded
leopards Neofelis nebulosa have leopard in
their common name, they are different enough from the true
leopards to have their own classifications within the cat
Leopards can hear five times more sounds than humans, even the ultrasonic squeaks made by mice.
When it's time for a rest, leopards like to climb trees and sprawl out on the branches. They are the largest cats to climb trees regularly.
Depending on its habitat, a leopards coat can be short and thin or thick and warm.
- Clouded Leopard
- Fishing Cat
- Lynx & Bobcat
- Mountain Lion
- Small Cat
- Snow Leopard
Listen to a leopard!
Leopards are closely related to jaguars, with a similar body structure. They have flower-shaped spots on their backs called rosettes, with a solid edge and no dot in the center. (Click here to Spot the Coats.) Scientists believe the coloring of spotted cats helps them hide from their prey, breaking up their outline in forests or grasslands. White spots on the tip of their tails and back of their ears help leopards locate and communicate with each other in tall grass. Leopards that live in dry grasslands are a lighter color than those found in rain forests. In the thick rain forests of Southeast Asia, nearly black leopards can sometimes be found. Although they may at first look solid black, their spotted pattern is visible from the right angle.
Call me adaptable
The largest leopards are named after where theyre found, like the North African leopard Panthera pardus panthera and the Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor. They can live without drinking water, getting the moisture they need from their food. All they need is some brush or rocky terrain to hide in and hunt. Leopards usually rest during the heat of the day in bushes, rocks, caves, or even up in a tree.
Unlike other cats, leopards are strong swimmers and are one of the few cats that like water. They are great athletes, able to run in bursts up to 36 miles an hour (58 kilometers per hour), leap 20 feet (6 meters) forward in a single bound, and jump ten feet (3 meters) straight up.
Leopards have incredible strength. A leopard can climb as high as 50 feet (15 meters) up a tree holding a dead animal in its mouth, even one larger and heavier than itself! They stash food up high so other predators like lions or hyenas cant get it. Then they can return and eat more. One leopard was spotted dragging a 220-pound (100-kilogram) young giraffe into heavy brush to hide it.
Leopard lunches and midnight snacks
Leopards hunt at night. They use their vision and keen hearing while hunting, not their sense of smell. Leopards stalk and pounce but dont usually chase their prey long distances. They grab their prey or swat it, using their retractable claws. Prey is killed with a bite to the throat.
Leopards are carnivores and will eat any meat item they can find: monkeys, baboons, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, large birds, fish, antelope, cheetah cubs, and porcupines. At the San Diego Zoo, leopards are generally fed carnivore diet, with an occasional large bone, thawed rabbit, or sheep carcass.
Like all young cats, leopard cubs like to play "stalk, pounce, and chase." Have you ever seen a house cat creep slowly after a bird or mouse? That's stalking. A quick leap and a grab with the claws is a pounce, and the chase comes if the prey gets away. Leopard cubs play by practicing these behaviors on their brothers, sisters, and even on their mother. It's a good way to learn how to survive when they get older.
Are leopards in trouble?
Leopard-skin coats were legal for many years and are still sold secretly. Many trees in leopard habitats have been cut down for building projects. And poachers are still killing leopards for their whiskers, which are used in some potions. In addition, because leopards prey on livestock, they are frequently poisoned by ranchers trying to protect their animals. All leopard subspecies are either endangered or threatened. The U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Commission on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) help protect leopards, as do wildlife parks in their home countries.
What can you do?
You can join conservation organizations that protect big cats. You can encourage people not to buy or wear fur coats. You can also support efforts to address the impact of the human population on the environment, which is an issue everywhere in the world.