There are nine subspecies of Panthera pardus, which are distributed as follows: Panthera pardus pardus is in Africa; Panthera pardus nimr, Arabia; Panthera pardus saxicolor, Central Asia; Panthera pardus melas, Java; Panthera pardus kotiya, Sri Lanka; Panthera pardus fusca, the Indian sub-continent; Panthera pardus delacourii, southeast Asia into southern China; Panthera pardus japonensis, northern China; and Panthera pardus orientalis, far east Russia, on the Korean peninsula and in north-eastern China. (Breitenmoser, et al., 2008)
Leopards inhabit a variety of terrain. They are most populous in mesic woodlands, grassland savannas, and forests. They also occupy mountainous, scrub, and desert habitats. They favor trees throughout their entire geographic distribution, and have been recorded at 5638 meters on Mt. Kilimanjaro. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009)
Body size and color patterns of leopards varies geographically and probably reflects adaptations to particular habitats. Leopards have short legs relative to their long body. They have a broad head, and their massive skull allows for powerful jaw muscles. The leopard's scapula has specialized attachment sites for climbing muscles. They have small round ears, long whiskers extending from dark spots on the upper lip, and long whiskers in their eyebrows that protect their eyes while moving through dense vegetation. Their coat ranges from tawny or light yellow in warm, dry habitats to reddish-orange in dense forests. Subspecies are distinguished according to unique pelage characteristics. Their body is covered with black rosettes, which are circular in East Africa and square in South Africa. They have solid black spots on their chest, feet, and face and rings on their tail. Cubs have a smoky gray coat and their rosettes are not yet distinct. Each individual has a unique coat, which can be used for identification. Black panthers, which are most populous in humid forests, are leopards with recessive melanistic genes. Savannah and woodland leopards tend to be relatively large while mountain and desert leopards tend to be relatively small. Leopards are sexually dimorphic as males tend to be larger than females. Females range in body mass from 17 to 58 kg and in length from 1.7 to 1.9 m. Males range in mass from 31 to 65 kg and in length from 1.6 to 2.3 m. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; "Thinkquest: Library", 1997; Hunter and Hinde, 2005; Nowell and Jackson, 1996)
Leopards are promiscuous, as both males and females have multiple mates. Females attract potential mates by excreting pheromones in their urine. Females initiate mating by walking back and forth in front of a male and brushing up against him or swatting him with her tail. The male then mounts the female while frequently biting her nape. Copulation last an average of three seconds with six minute intervals between each copulation bout. A single breeding pair may copulate up to 100 times per day for several days, during which time they share food resources. (Laman and Knott, 1997)
The reproductive season is year-round but peaks during the rainy season in May. In China and southern Siberia, leopards mainly breed in January and February. Females are in estrus for 7 days and have a 46 day long cycle. Gestation last 96 days and females usually give birth once every 15 to 24 months. Typically, females stop reproducing around 8.5 years old. (Friedman and Case, 2002; Macaskill, 2009)
Leopard cubs weigh less than 1 kg at birth, and their eyes remain closed for the first week. Mothers leave their cubs in the protection of dense bush, rock clefts, or hollow tree trunks for up to 36 hours while hunting and feeding. They move den sites frequently, which helps prevent cubs from falling prey to lions and other predators. Cubs learn to walk at 2 weeks of age and regularly leave the den at 6 to 8 weeks old, around which time they begin to eat solid food. Mothers share less than a third of their food with their cubs. Cubs are completely weaned by 3 months old and independent at just under 20 months old. Often, siblings maintain contact during the early years of independence. Territories are flexible and young may linger in their natal area. (Hunter and Hinde, 2005; Macaskill, 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)
In captivity, leopards can live to be 21 to 23 years old, with the oldest known individual being 27 years old. Wild leopards may live to be 10 to 12 years old, with the oldest known individual being 17 years old. Survival rates for cubs range from 41% to 50%. (Guggisberg, 1975; Hunter and Hinde, 2005)
Leopards are solitary, nocturnal carnivores. Although they sometimes hunt during overcast days, they are less diurnal in areas close to humans in comparison to uninhabited areas. They mark their territory with urine, feces, and claw marks and communicate with conspecifics by growling, roaring, and spitting when aggravated and purring when content. They also make a rasping cough to advertise their presence to conspecifics. Leopards are most comfortable in the lower forest canopy, where they often feed, and descend from the canopy head-first. They are comfortable in water and are adequate swimmers. When hunting, leopards move with a slow, crouching walk. They can run at bursts of up to 60 km/hour, jump more than 6 m horizontally and 3 m vertically. Leopards are facultative drinkers and obtain much of their water requirements from ingested prey. Leopard's have advanced vision and hearing, which makes them especially adept at hunting in dense forests. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Friedman and Case, 2002; Macaskill, 2009)
Male leopards have a core range of about 12 km^2, with a home range of about 35 km^2. Female's have a core range of about 4 km^2 with a home range of about 13 km^2. Similar to other mammalian species, the home ranges of male's are larger and tend to overlap with those of multiple females. In Namibia, the home ranges of males overlapped 46% of the time and those of females overlapped about 35% of the time. Home ranges tend to be larger in arid conditions. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)
Although leopards are silent most of the time, they may give a hoarse, rasping cough at repeated intervals to advertise their presence to conspecifics. Males use this unique call to announce territorial boundaries. If another leopard is in the vicinity, it may answer with a similar vocalization and continue vocalizing as it exits the area. Males also grunt at each other and females call to potential mates when in estrous. Some leopards may purr while feeding. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Guggisberg, 1975; Nowell and Jackson, 1996)
Leopards are ambush predators, pouncing on their prey before it chance to react. They approach potential prey by crouching low to the ground, getting as close as 3 to 10 m to prey before pouncing. Leopards are not likely to chase prey after the first pounce. Once a prey item is captured, they immediately break the prey's neck, causing paralysis. After breaking the prey's neck, leopards asphyxiate them and carry the carcass to a secluded feeding location, typically in a nearby tree. They may also cover prey carcasses in leaves and soil. Their tremendous strength allows them to tackle prey up to 10 times their own weight. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Friedman and Case, 2002; Hayward, et al., 2006; Macaskill, 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)
Leopards generally prey upon mid-sized ungulates, which includes small antelopes (Bovidae), gazelles (Gazella), deer (Cervidae), pigs (Sus), primates (Primates) and domestic livestock. They are opportunistic carnivores and eat birds (Aves), reptiles (Reptilia), rodents (Rodentia), arthropods (Arthropoda), and carrion when available. Leopards prefer prey that weigh between 10 and 40 kg. They are also known to scavenge from cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), solitary hyenas (Hyaenidae), and smaller carnivores as well. They are known to cache food and may continue hunting despite having multiple carcasses already cached. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Friedman and Case, 2002; Hayward, et al., 2006; Macaskill, 2009; Stander, et al., 1997)
Humans are the primary predator of leopards. Leopards are hunted as trophy animals for their fur, and retaliatory killings by farmers protecting their livestock are not uncommon. Lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) prey upon leopard cubs and are capable of killing adult leopards. Typically, when an adult is killed it is due to a territorial confrontation. Many of the characteristics that make leopards great predators also serve as excellent predator defense mechanisms. For example, a leopard's spots allows them to travel inconspicuously and avoid detection. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; Breitenmoser, et al., 2008)
Leopards compete for food with lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus). To avoid attacks from potential predators, leopards tend to hunt at different times of the day and avoid areas where potential predators are most populous. When competition for larger prey items is high, leopards prey on smaller animals, which reduces interspecific competition. Leopards are host to many common felid parasites, including lung flukes (Paragominus westermani), flat worms (Pseudophyllidea), spirurian nematodes (Spiruroidea), hookworms (Ancylostomatidae), lung worms (Aelurostrongylus), intestinal and hepatic parasites (Capillaria), and parasitic protozoa (Sarcocystis). (Friedman and Case, 2002; Macaskill, 2009; Patton and Rabinowitz, 1994)
Leopards can be seen in National Parks throughout Asia and Africa. They help control baboon populations and disperse seeds that stick to their fur. Chiefs and warriors from tribal cultures throughout the leopard's geographic range wear their fur as a symbol of honor and courage. Tribal medicine men and women suggest leopard skins as a remedy for bad omens. Leopards are often captured for pet trade and are targeted by trophy hunters as well. (Arhin, 2003)
When natural prey abundances are low, leopards have been known to kill livestock. Injured or sickly leopards have been known to hunt humans as easy prey. ("African Wildlife Foundation", 2009; "Thinkquest: Library", 1997; Arhin, 2003)
Leopards are declining in parts of their geographic range due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and hunting for trade and pest control. As a result, leopards are listed as "near threatened" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Leopards appear to show some resistance to minor habitat disturbances and are relatively tolerant of humans. Currently, leopards are protected throughout most of their range in west Asia; however, populations in this part of their range are too small to maintain stable growth. Although habitat reserves and national parks exist throughout their geographic range in Africa, a majority of leopards live outside these protected areas. Although leopards are the most populous of the "great cats", 5 of 9 subspecies are listed as endangered or critically endangered. (Breitenmoser, et al., 2008)
Ashley Hunt (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
flesh of dead animals.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
parental care is carried out by females
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
breeding takes place throughout the year
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