The leopard is the epitome of stealth. Its very name brings mental pictures of this great spotted cat crouched on a tree limb awaiting the approach of a gazelle, or of a sleek, spotted body slipping silently through the dry savanna grass with scarcely a ripple as it nears its chosen target. Silence and stealth are the trademarks of this ultimate predator. Leopards are the smallest of the large cats (to include lions, tigers, and jaguars) and are the most widespread, with subspecies found in Africa and Asia.
They have a body structure similar to jaguars and are covered with flower-shaped spots on their backs called rosettes, with no dot in the center; the jaguar has a dot inside each of its rosettes. This profusion of spots helps leopards hide from their prey, breaking up their body outline in forests or grasslands. Leopards living in dry grasslands are a lighter color than those found in rain forests.
Leopards are part of the cat family, Felidae. The scientific name for a leopard is Panthera pardus.
Leopards are well known for their cream and gold spotted fur, but some leopards have black fur with dark spots. These black leopards are often mistaken for panthers.
Adult leopards are solitary animals. Each adult leopard has its own territory where it lives and, although they often share parts of it, they try to avoid one another.
A leopard’s body is built for hunting. They have sleek, powerful bodies and can run at speeds of up to 57 kilometers per hour. They are also excellent swimmers and climbers and can leap and jump long distances.
A leopard’s tail is just about as long as its entire body. This helps it with balance and enables it to make sharp turns quickly.
Leopards are mostly nocturnal, hunting prey at night.
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