Marvel’s highly acclaimed Black Panther has been a smash hit with comic book fans all over the world. However, what about the actual big cat that is its namesake? In this post, let us explore more about the real black panthers in the wild and how the truth about them leads to surprising facts about black cats in general!
Fun Fact #1 – ‘Black panthers’ are not a single species.
That’s right. The truth is that ‘black panther’ is actually a name given to several black-haired variants of big cats, notably jaguars and leopards. This is due to a fairly common phenomenon called melanism.
Melanism is when an animal has large amounts of a dark pigment called melanin on the skin. What is most interesting is this is generally why there are black kitties across a number of domestic cat breeds!
Fun Fact #2 – Both black jaguars and black leopards are rare.
It is not clear why but melanistic big cats are rare across all the species they are found. This rarity is what initially led some scientists to assume that the black jaguar was a different species
from the regular one. It was only upon closer inspection that they were found to be one and the same.
It is highly suspected that natural selection plays a key role in the variant’s rarity, with black coats proving less effective camouflage in the wild (at least for black jaguars). Researchers have also attempted breeding melanistic pairs and have reported smaller litters.
Fun Fact #3 – They are not just found in Africa.
Given that melanism goes across species, you can easily assume that the ‘black panther’ can be found in different parts of the world outside Africa (and the fictional nation of Wakanda). It is very likely that black leopards were the ones who inspired Marvel’s big cat superhero. These are found in areas like Mt. Kenya and are arguably even more common in Asia, particularly Java and the rainforests of Malaya.
Meanwhile black jaguars are generally associated with South America. And while they are scientifically the same species as their spotted variants, some tribes still believe black jaguars are more dangerous.
Fun Fact #4 – Marvel is not the only one with a black panther hero
Lastly, some of you might remember that the Marvel superhero isn’t the first time a black panther was used as a character. Way back in 1894, a man named Rudyard Kipling wrote a series of stories inspired by his time in India. These stories would then eventually become known as the Jungle Book.
If you are familiar with those stories (or their Disney adaptations), then you will remember that the character Bagheera is also a black panther! In fact, ‘black panther’ is the literal translation of his Hindi name. And much like T’Challa, Bagheera serves a heroic mentor and best friend in his story.
As you can see, the black panther is a widely reaching icon both in scientific and cultural terms. And when you think about it, the little black cats of the world are black panthers in their own way. It is really amazing how even a distinctly colored variant can have its own celebrity status!