Jaguar vs Panther: 6 Key Differences Explained

Written by Hannah Ward
Updated: December 26, 2021


Panthers and jaguars are often confused for one another and its an easy mistake to make as the term “panther” is often used to describe several different species.  The truth is that a panther is not a single species, but is a term that is most often used to describe a black jaguar or a black leopard.  So, if you’re confused about just which is which, don’t worry as there are some key differences that can help to tell them apart.

For a start, the most obvious difference is their coat color and it is the easiest way to tell jaguars and panthers apart.  Also, one is more elusive than the other and prefers to remain in the shadows.  But that’s not all, as there is far more to these fantastic animals than meets the eye.  Join us as we discover all of their differences.

Comparing Panther vs Jaguar

Panthers and jaguars are often mistaken for each other as panther is sometimes used to describe a jaguar.  In fact, jaguars are Panthera onca, while panther is either a melanistic jaguar or melanistic leopard (Panthera pardus).

Melanistic animals are animals that have to much melanin in their skin.  Melanin is the pigment that is in skin and hair and too much causes animals to be black instead of their regular color.  In leopards melanism is the result of a recessive gene and in jaguars it is caused by a dominant gene.  As the only difference between melanistic jaguars and regular spotted jaguars is the color, in this article we’ll mainly concentrate on the key differences between melanistic leopards (panthers) and spotted jaguars.

Check out the chart below to learn a few of the main differences.

PantherJaguar
SizeUp to 130 pounds
23 to 28 inches at the shoulder
120 to 210 pounds
25 to 30 inches at the shoulder
LocationAfrica, Asia, India, ChinaCentral and South America
HabitatRainforests, forests, woodlands, grasslandsDeciduous forests, rainforests, wetlands, grasslands
ColorBlack, often with the appearance of the rosette markings (characteristic of both jaguars and leopards) visible in the coatPale yellow or tan and covered in black spots. Rosettes on the sides have a spot in the center
Body shapeSlender, muscular body, more defined headBroad forehead, stocky body and limbs
Tail length23 to 43 inches18 to 30 inches
Kill methodBite to the throat or the back of the neckBite to the head, crushing the skull
Lifepan12 to 17 years12 to 15 years

The 6 Key Differences Between Jaguars and Panthers

black-panther-waiting
Panthers prefer to stick to the shadows where they can remain hidden

Image CreditiStock.com/slowmotiongli

Jaguar vs Panther: Size

Jaguars are the largest cat native to the Americas, and the third largest cat in the world – after lions and tigers.  They weigh between 120 and 210 pounds and usually reach between 25 and 30 inches at the shoulder.  Unless they are a melanistic jaguar then panthers are smaller than jaguars.  They have a shoulder height of between 23 and 28 inches and weigh up to 130 pounds.

Jaguar vs Panther: Color

The most obvious difference between jaguars and panthers is the difference in their colors.  Jaguars are pale yellow or tan and are covered with black spotted markings which are in the shape of rosettes on their sides.  These rosettes also have a noticeable black spot in the center.  On the other hand, panthers have long been known for their sleek, black fur which gives them such notoriety.  However, even though panthers are black, most of the time it is still possible to see the rosette markings that are a characteristic of both leopards and jaguars in their black coat.

Jaguar vs Panther: Body Shape

As already mentioned, jaguars are particularly large, and their size is obvious by their body shape too.  Jaguars have stocky legs and a large, muscular body.  They also have broad foreheads which are quite distinctive and wide jaws.  Panthers generally have a slender body and limbs that are not as stocky.  Their heads are also more defined and not as broad.

Jaguar vs Panther: Tail Length

Melanistic leopards have much longer tails than jaguars, and their tails can reach 43 inches long.  By comparison, jaguars tails only reach 30 inches long.  This because panthers often drag their kills up into trees to protect it from other animals so they use their long tails for balance when climbing.  Although jaguars are also excellent climbers, they are at the top of the food chain and don’t have any many predators.  Therefore, they don’t need to drag their prey up into trees and don’t need a long tail for balance.

Jaguar vs Panther: Location and Habitat

Panthers are found across Africa, Asia, India, and China and prefer woodlands, forests, rainforests, and grasslands.  Jaguars are found throughout Central and South America and live in deciduous forests, rainforests, wetlands, and grassland.  However, if the panther is melanistic jaguar then they will have the same location and habitat as spotted jaguars.  Regardless of the actual species, panthers prefer to remain in the shadows and are rarely seen out in the open.

Jaguars are the third largest cat in the world

Image CreditEric Kilby / Flickr

Jaguar vs Panther: Method of Killing Prey

Jaguars have one of the most powerful bites of all cats – again behind only tigers and lions.  They usually kill their prey with one devastating bite to the head which crushes their skull.  Jaguars have a bite that is so strong they can even penetrate the shells of turtles and crush the skulls of caimans.

Being smaller than jaguars (unless they are a black jaguar), panthers kill their prey by either biting the back of their neck or by biting the throat.  They usually bite the throat of larger prey and crush their windpipe, effectively suffocating them.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are jaguars and panthers the same animal?

The answer is yes and no as it depends on which species is melanistic (black).  Panther isn’t an individual species, but is a term that is generally used to describe either black leopards or black jaguars.  So if it is a black leopard then the answer is no, but if it is a black jaguar then the answer is yes!

Are panthers and jaguars from the same genus?

Yes, panthers and jaguars are both from the genus Panthera.  There are five members of Panthera – lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, and snow leopards.

Are panthers more elusive than jaguars?

Yes, panthers are believed to be more elusive than jaguars for a few reasons.  First of all, melanism only affects around 11% of the population of leopards and jaguars, so there are far more jaguars than there are panthers.  Secondly, panthers tend to stick to the shadows and areas where they have plenty of forest cover which makes them harder to see, particularly because of their black coats.  It is thought that panthers do this because their dark coats give them an advantage when hunting during the night or in darker areas.

Can only jaguars and leopards be panthers?

No, just to make it more confusing, there are a couple of other animals that are also known as panthers.  Although only melanistic jaguars and leopards are known as black panthers, mountain lions also sometimes go by the name panther.  Also, a population of mountain lions that live in Florida are known as Florida panthers.