No, an individual leopard can’t change their spots once they are fully developed. But the background colour varies considerably across the cats huge distribution. And leopard markings are, in fact, dark spots to rosettes which vary in ‘size, shape, thickness of margins and whether the margins are broken into two, three, four or even five spots’ (Wild Cats of the World page 320).
The idea for the question comes from the phrase, “a leopard cannot change its spots” which means that people can’t change their basic character traits which can be deeply entrenched because they are inherited. Learned traits are arguably easier to change. The phrase is normally used to emphasis the point that a person who is behaving badly in certain areas of their lives will not change especially as they get older.
It is unreasonable to expect leopards to change their spots. They are a fixed part of the cat’s anatomy. As fixed as the fact that they have a pair of eyes and ears and four legs.
The spots are ‘mapped out’ by inherited genes. The Genetics Society of America reported sometime before Jan 2010 that at least three different genes are involved in the development of the domestic cat coat markings. The study opened up the field of research into the influence of genes in pattern formation in the fur of mammals.
Leopards can be individually identified by their spots as can tigers and other felids. The spots provide excellent camouflage. The leopard can hide with meagre cover from vegetation. The fur of the leopard varies geographically. In Africa it is more coarse than in India where it is described as being soft and smooth with little underwool. In Nepal, for instance, the coat is thicker and more woolly especially in the winter. In the Russian Far East, the Amur leopard has thick, long fur up to 5 centimetres long on the belly combined with a dense woolly undercoat.
The leopard is the largest spotted cat in Africa and Asia as the similar but larger jaguar is not present in these areas.