This is a great picture from a short video made by The Big Cat Sanctuary showing Neron, a male, melanistic jaguar. The spots are called rosettes and they are nicely visible. It shows that black jaguars, a.k.a. “black panthers” are not completely jet black. They often retain ghost markings but the markings on Neron are quite clear and very impressive. The term black panther a generic. It does not describe a particular species of melanistic cat but any big wild cat species which is melanistic. I’m referring to, leopards, mountain lions (which are not strictly in the big cat league) and jaguars. Other smaller wild cat species can also be black such as the serval and Geoffroy’s Cat. There also melanistic bobcats albeit rare.
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They say that tiges can be black but there are none left. Lions are never black. Melanistic jaguars and leopards are the wild cat species which are normally referred to as black panthers. The black coat is non-standard and caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation.
The word “melanism” comes from “melanin” which is pigment in the hair strands which is dark brown to black. There is an evolutionary question about melanism. Why did it occur and why does it still occur? It may provide advantages for survival. It may help, for example, leopards to ambush prey more effectively at night. That is highly plausible obviously. And it is said that cats with black fur are healthier than those with normal type for colouration. It’s been theorised that the genes for melanism may provide resistance to viral infections and as black absorbs more light it provides extra warmth for the animal. It may also be linked to a high-altitude adaptation.
As I understand it, the mode of transmission in jaguars is via a dominant gene. In leopards melanism is inherited as a recessive trait. My research also indicates that when melanistic wild cats mate they have smaller litter sizes compared to pairings of normal-coated cats.
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