Jaguar Vs Panther: 6 Key Differences Explained

Jaguar vs Panther - 1200 X 627

Written by Hannah Ward

Updated: October 25, 2023

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Panthers and jaguars are often confused with one another and it’s 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.

Black Panther

Panthers are melanistic, which is the pigment that causes them to be black.

© Mane

Comparing Panther Vs Jaguar

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

Melanistic animals are animals that have more melanin in their skin than others. Melanin is the pigment that is in skin and hair and too much of it 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 regularly 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.

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, a 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
Lifespan12 to 17 years12 to 15 years

The 6 Key Differences Between Jaguars And Panthers


Panthers prefer to stick to the shadows where they can remain hidden


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 melanistic jaguars, 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.  Even though panthers are black, most of the time it is still possible to see the rosette markings that are 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 large, muscular bodies.  They also have broad foreheads which are quite distinctive and wide jaws.  Panthers generally have slender bodies 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 is because panthers often drag their kills up into trees to protect them 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 many predators. Therefore, they don’t need to drag their prey up into trees and don’t need a long tail for balance.

Baby Panther

Panther cubs start hunting with their mother when they are 6 weeks old.

©Eric Isselee/

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 a melanistic jaguar then it 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 cats in the world.

©Pedro Helder Pinheiro/

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 black jaguars), 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.

Would a Jaguar Mate with a Leopard?

There have been several instances of mating in captivity between black leopards, shown above, and jaguars.

As there is not a single, specific panther species, when inquiring as to whether a jaguar and a panther are able to mate, it is actually a question of whether or not a jaguar and a leopard are able to mate. While it is not natural in the wild, as these animals don’t typically cross territories, there are instances of hybrids of the Panthera genus. These hybrids are comprised of any species in the genus including not only the jaguar and leopard but the tiger, lion, and snow leopard as well.

Hybrids between jaguars and leopards, or leopardesses, have various names. They can be called jaguleps, jagupards, lepjags, or leaguers, and the females are fertile and able to reproduce as well. There have been several instances of these hybrids, from a female jagupard bred at a zoo in Chigaco, and several jagupards bred at the Hellbrunn Zoo in Salzburg, Austria to two cubs in Spain.

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About the Author

Hannah is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, marine life, mammals, and geography. Hannah has been writing and researching animals for four years alongside running her family farm. A resident of the UK, Hannah loves riding horses and creating short stories.

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