Leopard, a meat-eating animal of Africa, Asia, and the East Indies. The leopard, which is about 4 ½ feet (140 cm) long with a 30-inch (80-cm) tail, is smaller than its close relatives, the lion and the tiger, but it makes up in speed, agility, and ferocity what it lacks in size. Males weigh from 80 to 200 pounds (36 to 90 kg); females, about two-thirds as much as the males. Most leopards are tawny, covered with rosettes made up of circles of black spots. The rosettes provide protective coloration for the leopard in its natural habitat—forests and grasslands. Some leopards are black. They are called panthers. Panthers inhabit dense rain forests in Asia. The name panther is also applied to the cougar, another species of cat.

LeopardsLeopards are covered with rosettes made up of circles of black spots.

The leopard is an excellent climber and spends much of its time in trees. It is a solitary animal and usually hunts alone at night. It feeds mainly on antelope and deer. Because leopards also feed on livestock, they have been exterminated in many areas and are an endangered species.

The female bears two to four cubs at a time, about three months after mating. They are independent by the age of six months. The life span of a leopard is about 20 years.

The snow leopard, also called the ounce, lives above the timberline in the high mountains of central Asia, from the Altas to the Himalayas. The animal's fur is long and thick, the ground color of the body being grayish, creamy, or whitish. Only the head has well-defined black spots. The body is marked with interrupted and irregular rosettes that are darker than the surrounding ground color. A dark streak runs from the middle of the back to the tail.

The snow leopard is 40 to 50 inches (100 to 130 cm) long with a tail about three feet (90 cm) long. It stands about two feet (60 cm) high at the shoulder, and weighs 55 to 165 pounds (25 to 75 kg). It feeds on wild sheep, musk deer, rabbits, birds, and such domestic animals as sheep and goats. Due to indiscriminate hunting for its pelt, the snow leopard is in danger of becoming extinct.

The snow leopardThe snow leopard lives in the high mountains of central Asia.

The clouded leopard is found in the forests of Borneo and China. It is light brown or gray, with brown or black rosettes. This leopard reaches a length of 3 ½ feet (1 m) with a tail about 3 feet (90 cm) long and a weight of 50 pounds (23 kg). Due to loss of habitat and indiscriminate hunting, it is also an endangered species.

Hunting leopard is another name for the cheetah. However, it is not the same species as the true leopard.

Do All Leopards Have Spots?

Yes, all leopards have spots over their bodies. Most leopards are yellowish or tan with black spots. Some leopards, however, are born all black. But even they have spots. A black leopard’s fur is so dark that the spots can be hard to see. Not only do black leopards have spots, but like all leopards, they also have rings on their tails.

A leopard’s spots provide excellent camouflage. A leopard often lurks silently among the trees and grass when it hunts. A leopard blends in well with the patterns and shadows of its habitat. This helps it sneak up on prey, such as monkeys, antelope, goats, sheep, and snakes. When prey is near, a hiding leopard rushes out and makes a deadly pounce.

Are All Spotted Wild Cats Leopards?

No, they aren’t. For example, a jaguar is not a leopard. But, at first glance, a jaguar and a leopard do look a lot alike. Both wild cats usually have golden or brownish-yellow fur with many black spots. And both are about the same size. So how do you tell these animals apart? Jaguars have stockier builds and wider faces than leopards do. And while leopards are found in Africa and Asia, jaguars live in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

The jaguar is the largest kind of wild cat in the Americas. It can grow up to 8 1/2 feet (2.6 meters) long including its tail and weigh up to 300 pounds (140 kilograms).

Jaguars are excellent climbers. Their short forelegs are strong and help them climb up steep slopes and trees with ease. Jaguars are also superb swimmers. They are good hunters, too. They feed on deer, capybaras, and tapirs.

How Did Clouded Leopards Get Their Name?

Despite their name, clouded leopards are not closely related to leopards. Clouded leopards are much smaller than leopards. They weigh between 35 and 55 pounds (16 to 25 kilograms). Clouded leopards do have spots, but their spots are much larger than leopard spots. Many people think their spots look like clouds, so that’s how they got their name.

Clouded leopards live in forests in Southeast Asia. They are at home on the ground and in trees. They eat fish, birds, squirrels, monkeys, and wild pigs. Sometimes clouded leopards will even jump down from trees and land on their prey. They kill their prey with their powerful jaws. The jaws of clouded leopards are stronger than the jaws of most other wild cats. Clouded leopards also have the longest canines in relation to their body size.

Leopards belong to the cat family Felidae. The leopard is Panthera pardus; snow leopard, P. uncia; clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa.