Picture of a cobweb leopard

Cobweb leopards exhibit a form of vitiligo which in humans produces patches of pale, white skin due to a lack of melanin being produced by pigment producing cells called melanocytes. Glasgow Zoo, Scotland acquired a 10-year-old black leopard from Dublin Zoo, Ireland in the early 1980s. She was a cobweb leopard as she exhibited a uniformly black coat sprinkled with white hairs which gave her a glittering coat. It is said that the visual effect was as if she had been draped with spiderwebs hence the term “cobweb leopard”.

Cobweb panther or leopard
Cobweb panther or leopard
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

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According to Sarah Hartwell, a feline genetics expert, the condition is known as piebaldism. This is a term named after the piebald gene which causes white areas across the coat in various animals. The piebald gene removes pigment from the hair strands.

It appears that the cobweb panther (‘panther’ is an alternative, generic, name for the leopard) was not selectively bred to create more. This is kind of thing that could have happened because of the interesting appearance. It would have attracted paying customers.

As expected, the condition is best seen in black cats. White spots appear on the coat. The areas grow until there is a white lace pattern. The cat may go white. Alternative names for piebaldism are “leukoderma” meaning white skin and “leukotrichia” meaning white hairs. It is described as “progressive acquired depigmentation”. Vitiligo is a form of leukoderma. It may be caused by illness or environmental factors.

My thanks to Sarah Hartwell of messybeast.com.

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