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Comparison of cheetahs, jaguars and leopards

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Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
Leopard (Panthera pardus)
Jaguar (Panthera onca)

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), jaguar (Panthera onca) and leopard (Panthera pardus) are three species of felids that are known for having yellow or tawny fur marked by spots, and are considered to be big cats.[1][2] Due to their physical similarities, they could get mistaken for one another, and so comparisons between them have been made, in both children's[3][4][5][6] and adult literature.[7][8][9][10][11]


Two cladograms proposed for Panthera. The cladogram showing the jaguar to be more closely related to the lion is based on studies done in 2006[12] and 2009,[13] while the one showing the leopard to be closer to the lion is based on studies done in 2010[14] and 2011.[15]

The cheetah is a member of the genus Acinonyx, within the tribe Acinonychini of the subfamily Felinae. By contrast, the leopard and jaguar are members of the genus Panthera in the subfamily Pantherinae, and together, they appear to be the closest living relatives of the lion (Panthera leo). Though the leopard is sympatric with the lion in both Africa and Asia, it is not clear whether this[14][15] or the jaguar[12][13] is closer to the lion, with different analyses giving different results. In addition, as of 2017, whereas the jaguar is regarded as a monotypic species, the cheetah and leopard are recognised as being divided into different subspecies.[1]

Habitat and distribution[edit]

The cheetah and leopard inhabit the Old World, and are often sympatric, whereas the jaguar inhabits the New World.[16] Cheetahs are found throughout Africa, with a small population in the Asian country of Iran. Leopards are found throughout Africa and Asia, including the Sunda island of Java,[2][1] and European Russia.[17]


Comperative illustrations of cheetah (right), leopard (left) and jaguar (below)

Generally, the cheetah has a lean body structure which helps it run fast, whereas the leopard and jaguar have more robust physiques, with the latter generally being bigger[18] and stronger than the former. In addition, whereas the cheetah has spots, the leopard and jaguar have rosettes. Compared to the leopard's rosettes, the jaguar's rosettes are usually bigger, and would have spots within them.[1][2][19]

Physical comparison
Jaguar Leopard Cheetah
Weight average 56–90 kg (123–198 lb) up to 150 kg (330 lb) 33–90 kg (73–198 lb) with a maximum weight of 98 kg (216 lb)[20] 21–72 kg (46–159 lb)[21]
Height at shoulder 64–76 cm (25–30 in) Avarage for males is 61–71 cm (24–28 in), while females are 56–64 cm (22–25 in) 70–90 centimetres (28–35 in)[21]
Head to tail length 1.1 to 1.9 m (43 to 75 in) 89 to 191 cm (35 to 75 in) 112–150 cm (44–59 in)[21]
Tail Jaguar has the shortest tail of any big cat, at 46–76 cm (18–30 in) length Tail is 61–99 cm (24–39 in) long 80–92 cm (31–36 in)[21]


Due to the structure of their larynxes, leopards and jaguars have the ability to roar, and are thus classified as "roaring cats", unlike cheetahs.[1][2][22]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; Werdelin, L.; Wilting, A.; Yamaguchi, N.; Abramov, A. V.; Christiansen, P.; Driscoll, C.; Duckworth, J. W.; Johnson, W.; Luo, S.-J.; Meijaard, E.; O’Donoghue, P.; Sanderson, J.; Seymour, K.; Bruford, M.; Groves, C.; Hoffmann, M.; Nowell, K.; Timmons, Z.; Tobe, S. (2017). "A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group" (PDF). Cat News (Special Issue 11). ISSN 1027-2992.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Nowell, Kristin; Jackson, Peter (1996). Wild Cats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (PDF). Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. pp. 17–149. ISBN 2-8317-0045-0. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  3. Israel, Elaine (1999). The world almanac for kids, 2000. Mahwah, New Jersey: World Almanac Books, distributed by St. Martin's Press. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. Israel, Elaine (2000). The world almanac for kids, 2001. Mahwah, New Jersey: World Almanac Books, distributed by St. Martin's Press. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  5. Albee, Sarah; Delanee, Kate (2010-08-01). "2: The body of a cheetah". Cheetahs. New York: Gareth Stevens Publishing. pp. 15–22. ISBN 1-4339-4352-2. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  6. Montgomery, Sy (2004-04-30). The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 18. ISBN 0-6184-9490-1. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  7. Van Valkenburgh, B.; Pang, B.; Cherin, M.; Rook, L. (2017). Nyhus, P. J.; Marker, L.; Boast, L. K.; Schmidt-Kuentzel, A., eds. "Cheetahs: Biology and Conservation (Chapter 3 – The Cheetah: Evolutionary History and Paleoecology)". Elsevier: 25–32. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-804088-1.00003-4. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  8. FASHION: On the Street; Protective Coloration For City Critters, 138, The New York Times, 1989-04-23, p. 24 (N), 53 (L), retrieved 2018-09-14
  9. The New Wonder Book: Cyclopedia of World Knowledge. III. International Press. 1954. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  10. Nobleman, Marc Tyler (2005). What's the difference: How to tell things apart that are confusingly close. Barnes & Noble. ISBN 0-7607-7493-5. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  11. BBC wildlife, The BBC, 1991
  12. 12.0 12.1 Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; Antunes, A.; Teeling, E.; O'Brien, S. J. (2006). "The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: a genetic assessment". Science. 311 (5757): 73–77. Bibcode:2006Sci...311...73J. doi:10.1126/science.1122277. PMID 16400146.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; O'Brien, S. J. (2010). "Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae)" (PDF). Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids: 59–82.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Davis, B. W.; Li, G.; Murphy, W. J. (2010). "Supermatrix and species tree methods resolve phylogenetic relationships within the big cats, Panthera (Carnivora: Felidae)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 56 (1): 64–76. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.01.036. PMID 20138224. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2016.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Mazák, J. H.; Christiansen, P.; Kitchener, A. C.; Goswami, A. (2011). "Oldest known pantherine skull and evolution of the tiger". PLOS One. 6 (10): e25483. Bibcode:2011PLoSO...625483M. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025483. PMC 3189913. PMID 22016768.
  16. Quigley, H.; Foster, R.; Petracca, L.; Payan, E.; Salom, R.; Harmsen, B. (2017). "Panthera onca". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN. 2017: e.T15953A50658693. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T15953A50658693.en. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  17. Lukarevsky, V.; Akkiev, M.; Askerov, E.; Agili, A.; Can, E.; Gurielidze, Z.; Kudaktin, A.; Malkhasyan, A.; Yarovenko, Y. (2007). "Status of the Leopard in the Caucasus" (PDF). Cat News (Special Issue 2): 15–21.
  18. John Hampden Porter (1894). Wild beasts; a study of the characters and habits of the elephant, lion, leopard, panther, jaguar, tiger, puma, wolf, and grizzly bear. pp. 76–256. Retrieved 2014-01-19. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  19. Nowak, R. M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World (6th ed.). Baltimore, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 828–831. ISBN 978-0-8018-5789-8. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  20. Satunin, K. A. (1914), "Leopardus pardus ciscaucasicus", Conspectus Mammalium Imperii Rossici I. Tiflis, pp. 159–160 |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Estes, R. D. (2004). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates (4th ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 377–383. ISBN 978-0-520-08085-0. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  22. Weissengruber, G. E.; Forstenpointner, G.; Peters, G.; Kübber-Heiss, A.; Fitch, W. T. (September 2002). "Hyoid apparatus and pharynx in the lion (Panthera leo), jaguar (Panthera onca), tiger (Panthera tigris), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the domestic cat. (Felis silvestris f. catus)". Journal of Anatomy. Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 201 (3): 195–209. doi:10.1046/j.1469-7580.2002.00088.x. PMC 1570911. PMID 12363272.

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External links[edit]

Jaguar versus leopard[edit]

Cheetah versus leopard[edit]

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