The leopard is a species of big cat belonging to the
taxonomic family felidae and known by the scientific
name of Panthera pardus. It occupies a large range,
being found in Siberia, much of Asia, the Middle East,
and sub-Saharan Africa. The leopard cannot be found
consistently throughout its range; it has become regionally
extinct in a number of Middle Eastern, North African,
and Asian countries, and populations are fragmented
throughout its range.
As its large range suggests, the leopard is a highly
adaptable animal, capable of thriving in a variety of
climates and ecosystems. Impressively, the leopard can
thrive in terrains as disparate as deserts and rainforests.
Being the smallest of the big cats of the genus panthera,
the leopard, on average, measures between 35 and 65
inches in length, excluding its 24 to 43 inch-long tail,
and 18 to 31 inches in height at the shoulder. Female
leopards can weigh between 51 and 132 pounds, while
male leopards can weigh between 66 and 201 pounds. Leopards
can vary in size by subspecies.
The leopard is well-known for its coloration, which
is normally a light yellow or dark golden color featuring
a black "leopard pattern," or a series of black markings
called rosettes as well as solid black spots across
the coat. The color and pattern of a leopard varies
by habitat, and each leopard's spots are unique. Most
leopards have softer fur on their undersides that is
lighter in color than the rest of its fur.
Leopards are aggressive predators and opportunistic
hunters. The leopard's diet is therefore very inclusive,
in addition to being subject to regional variety due
to the leopard's scattered range. Unlike many large
predators, leopards will will consume prey as small
as insects, as well as hunting and eating animals several
times the leopard's size.
The leopard's function as a powerful and successful
predator is facilitated by its remarkable physical abilities.
It is capable of running at a speed as fast as 36 miles
per hour, and is incredibly agile, making it very effective
at climbing trees. It has a large skull and powerful
jaw that allow it to grip very large prey in its mouth,
and it strong and limber enough to carry such prey with
it as it climbs a tree. These abilities are complemented
by the leopard's remarkable stealth.
While the leopard's bite is its primary weapon, allowing
it to strangle its prey quickly and effectively, its
claws are also an impressive weapon. The leopard has
retractable, razor-sharp claws at its disposal. Each
leopard has five claws on each front foot and four claws
on each back foot. It uses its claws largely to aid
it in climbing trees.
The leopard is a solitary creature. Each leopard has
a territory called a home range, which can measure about
six square miles for females and between 12 and 30 square
miles for males, or perhaps even more. Female leopards'
home ranges have been observed to become even smaller
when the female is caring for a cub.The home ranges
of male leopards rarely overlap, though the ranges of
male and female leopards may overlap.