Panther Vs. Jaguar: 12 Differences & Facts [Explained]

Panthers – or black panthers, as they are more commonly called – are beautiful big cats that can sometimes be seen in the Americas or Asia. 

Jaguars are the black-spotted, tawny-colored wild felines of South America. Since they and panthers can sometimes occur in the same habitat, who would win a fight?

Panthers and jaguars found in the same habitat are one and the same species. The black coloration is the result of a condition called melanism. The body produces excessive melanin and results in the darkening of fur. Leopards can have the same genetic mutation, and black leopards exist, too. They are also called panthers, but they live in Asia.

Black Panther Species Explained 

Black panthers are often thought of as an individual species of big cats. However, black panthers are either leopards (in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia) or jaguars (in the Americas). 

Individuals of both species can present a genetic mutation of two of the genes that codify fur color. This mutation makes one of these genes recessive, while the other becomes dominant. 

The result is an excessive production of melanin, which is the pigment all mammals – humans included – have in their bodies. 

Melanin is a substance that produces skin, fur (or hair), and eye pigmentation. The more melanin a body produces, the darker the skin, hair, and eyes will be. 

In black jaguars and leopards, the genetic mutation leads to a condition called melanism, which basically means an abnormal darkening of body tissues.

This condition is relatively rare, but in both species, up to 10 percent of individuals can present the mutation. 

Researchers observed that melanism is strongly associated with certain environmental factors.

Thus, the distribution of black leopards or jaguars is not random, with the geographic range predicting the probability of a black panther being born in both species.

In leopards, the mutation is strongly associated with moist forest areas. This is why most black leopards occur in Southeast Asia’s rainforests rather than Africa. 

In jaguars, the mutation isn’t related to a condition of moisture, but it mostly occurs in individuals living in forests. 

Because of this specific distribution, people could wrongfully believe that panthers are a separate species.

However, this mutation could be an adaptation to the environment – in canopied and shaded areas, a tawny coat with dark spots is easy to see compared to black fur.

Why Are They Called Panthers? 

Black panthers belong to two distinct species. However, they were given a common name instead of black jaguar or black leopard due to the color similarity and the fact that they both belong to the same genus

In fact, roaring big cats – including jaguars, leopards, lions, tigers, and snow leopards – all belong to the genus Panthera

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It should be said that any of the five species mentioned above can be panthers, as long as they present the genetic mutation that turns their fur black.

However, this mutation is very rare in all species apart from jaguars (Panthera onca) and leopards (Panthera pardus). 

There are very few reported sightings of black tigers; however, these individuals weren’t completely black but rather had thicker stripes. 

Similarly, Asiatic lions have black instead of tawny manes. Yet, a full black lion has never been seen in real life. 

Lions and tigers are typically affected by another genetic mutation that results in albinism; hence, white tigers and white lions. 

12 Differences Between Panther (Indochinese Leopard) Vs. Jaguar 

We established that panthers can be black individuals of either leopard or jaguar species.

For comparison purposes, we considered the melanistic leopards as panthers (referred to as Indochinese panthers in this article).

Below is a list of facts and strength comparison between Indochinese panthers (black leopards) and jaguars*:

CharacteristicPanther (Indochinese leopard)Jaguar
Classification (species)Panthera pardus delacouriPanthera onca
Geographic rangeSoutheast Asia and southern ChinaSouth, Central, and North America
HabitatForests Tropical forests, scrub forests, wetlands, swamps, coastal forests
Body size2.98 to 5.4 feet5 to 6 feet 
Weight 55 to 110 pounds150 to 300 pounds
Teeth size2 inches2 inches
Bite force1,030 PSI1,500 PSI
Speed36 mph50 mph
Strike force3,960 lb.-ft./s15,000 lb.-ft./s
Behavior Solitary; territorialSolitary; territorial 
Diet Carnivore Carnivore 
Conservation statusVulnerable Near threatened 

*All data included in the table was gathered from scientific publications, research papers, magazines, almanacs, and other official sources cited throughout the article. 

Strike forces for each species were calculated by multiplying the top speed by top weight. 

For comparison purposes, we considered the black Indochinese leopard as a panther (Panthera pardus delacouri). Jaguars can also be black and, thus, black panthers. 

1. Classification 

Indochinese black panthers and jaguars alike are part of the Panthera genus, but they belong to different species. 

Jaguars are South America’s big cats, even though they technically live in Central and North America too. Their scientific name is Panthera onca

Black panthers are leopards affected by a genetic mutation that causes an abnormal production of melanin. However, black leopards are very rare in Africa. 

The mutation mostly affects Indochinese leopards (Panthera pardus delacouri), even though other subspecies can also carry the genes.

2. Geographic Range

Indochinese melanistic leopards – or Indochinese black panthers – generally occur in moist forests that are not commonly found in arid Africa. 

This is why the vast majority of leopard panthers are found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. The geographic range spans from China to Nepal. 

Dark leopards in other parts of Asia, especially in Java, may not be black panthers at all but Javan leopards (Panthera pardus melas), which naturally have more melanin than all other leopard species and appear dark brown or black in color.

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Photo: ScienceDirect

Jaguars are known as the big cats of South America, but their geographic range expands to Central and North America, as far north as Arizona

3. Habitat

Jaguars live in a variety of habitats, ranging from tropical and scrub forests to swamps, wetlands, and coastal areas. 

These big cats don’t avoid water and are well-adapted at living in moist environments. Not only do they live in coastal areas, but they are also excellent swimmers.

While technically all leopards can be panthers, scientists discovered that the habitat influences the probability of a panther occurring. That’s why the melanistic leopard habitat is confined to the rainforests in Southeast Asia.

4. Body Size

Both jaguars and melanistic leopards are smaller compared to lions and tigers, even though they are all closely related. 

Jaguars typically grow up to five to six feet in length. Their long tails add another 27.5 to 36 inches to the length, while the shoulder height typically ranges between 27 and 31 inches.

Leopard panthers are not only smaller than jaguars, but they are actually smaller than African leopards – to which they are not as closely related as originally believed. 

Size-wise, they grow between 2.98 and 5.4 feet in length, while the shoulder height is similar to jaguars. The tails make up for up to half their body size.

5. Weight 

One of the biggest differences between black panthers and jaguars is the weight.

Jaguars are compact but very robust mammals, and weigh between 150 and 300 pounds. Indochinese leopards are about three times lighter, weighing between 55 and 110 pounds.

6. Teeth Size

A similarity between Indochinese leopards and jaguars is the size of their teeth. Both species have fangs that can be as long as two inches

It goes without saying that the cranial morphology is similar between the two species, considering they both belong to the same family.

7. Bite Force

Despite the cranial and teeth size similarities, another strong point in favor of jaguars is the bite force. 

While they may be smaller than lions and tigers, they can bite with a force up to 1,500 PSI – this is the strongest bite force of all big cats, relative to their size.

Leopards have a weaker bite than jaguars, but they can still beat other wild cats like lions and cheetahs; their bite is around 1,030 PSI, only slightly weaker than tigers.  

8. Speed

Speed is a crucial asset in the wild, enabling mammals to either catch prey or escape predators. And from the two species, jaguars are a lot faster. 

In fact, jaguars can sprint at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. They can only sustain this speed for short distances, but they still have an advantage if needed. 

Leopards are by no means slow, but their top speed doesn’t exceed 36 miles per hour for short bursts and around 30 miles per hour for longer distances. 

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9. Strike Force

Despite a lack of studies regarding the strike force of carnivorous mammals – these animals rely on bite force to kill prey, after all – the impact force can be calculated by multiplying the speed by body mass. 

Like the strike force, the impact force is variable and it can be weaker or stronger based on factors that can change for each strike. 

For comparison purposes, we considered the top speed and weight of each species. 

Considering the weight and speed differences, it doesn’t come as a surprise that jaguars are a lot stronger.

They can output an impact force up to 15,000 lb.-ft./s, which is around five times the impact force of an Indochinese leopard – 3,960 lb.-ft./s. 

10. Behavior 

A similarity between the two species is their behavior. Both Indochinese panthers and jaguars are solitary mammals. 

Panthers are nocturnal carnivores that establish home ranges up to 13 square miles in size. Male territories don’t overlap with the territories of other males, but they can overlap with the territories of several females. 

Like jaguars, leopards are comfortable in the water and prefer resting in the forest canopy from where they survey the territory for prey and intruders. 

Jaguars have a similar behavior, but they are mostly crepuscular. Their territories are slightly larger, up to 14.6 square miles, and they don’t necessarily rest on tree branches.

Typically, jaguars prefer resting in deep shaded areas, such as under thick vegetation or under rocks. 

Both leopards and jaguars are territorial, defending their home ranges from other big cats or potential threats. 

11. Diet 

As big cats, Indochinese panthers and jaguars alike are strictly carnivores. 

Jaguars prefer large prey, including tapirs, deer, and peccaries, but they also prey on turtles, caimans, porcupines, capybaras, and even snakes. 

Despite their relatively small size, jaguars are apex predators in their territory and have no known predators other than humans.

Indochinese panthers are ambush predators just like jaguars, but they prefer mid-sized ungulates and smaller mammals.

They also eat small primates, reptiles, and insects, and take advantage of carrion or carcasses whenever possible. 

12. Conservation Status

Jaguars and Indochinese leopards alike are threatened with extinction, which means that panthers could disappear in the future.

Jaguars are listed as near threatened by IUCN, and the population is decreasing. According to WWF, there are around 173,000 jaguars left in the world. 

Indochinese leopards are a critically endangered species. Currently, there are fewer than 800 adults left in the wild, and not all of them are black panthers.

Who Would Win A Fight?

 A fight between an Indochinese panther and a jaguar would never end well for the former. 

Jaguars are larger than Indochinese leopards and about five times stronger physically. They have a stronger bite and are a lot faster. 

A panther would only stand a chance if it would manage to take the jaguar by surprise. Otherwise, it will always lose the fight.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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