The Color Black in Wild Cats May Decrease Ability to Communicate

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A melanistic Indian leopard in Nagarhole National Park. (Davidvraju via Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Why Are Black Leopards So Rare?

by Riley Black/Smithsonian.com

Black leopards are mysterious cats. With a rare variation of the generally spotted carnivore’s coat, they blend into the shadows and are nearly invisible in the dark. But the black fur that provides a boost to sneakiness could come with a cost to communication—and new research may explain why wild, all-black cats are relatively rare.

The black color variants of cats like leopards, jaguars and ocelots are known by experts as “melanism.” Over the years, researchers have come up with a handful of hypotheses to explain why some wild cat species have these darker coats. The black cats are likely better concealed at night, but the variant may also allow cats to warm faster in the sun or even ward off certain parasites. But the trouble with being an all-black cat, a new study in PLOS ONE suggests, is that markings critical to feline communication get obscured.

Melanistic cats are not as black as a moonless night. Often, their spots are still visible. But black leopards, jaguars and other wild cats lack the white markings on their ears and tails that other members of their species often use to signal to each other.

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Biography
Carol graduated from Riverside White Cross School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio and received her diploma as a registered nurse. She attended Bowling Green State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Literature. She attended the University of Toledo, College of Nursing, and received a Master’s of Nursing Science Degree as an Educator.

She has traveled extensively, is a photographer, and writes on medical issues. Carol has three children RJ, Katherine, and Stephen – two daughters-in-law; Suzy and Katie – two granddaughters; Isabella Marianna and Zoe Olivia – and one grandson, Alexander Paul. She also shares her life with husband Gordon Duff, many cats, and two rescue pups.

Carol’s Archives 2009-2013
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2 COMMENTS

  1. I would find better veterinarians that know that tuxedos are the smartest kitties (and also the ones with the most attitude).

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