Texas Wild Cats and Black Panthers

by Ragtimelil

I just met someone who swears he sees black panthers around his house. I had to look that up since I’ve read that black panthers don’t exist. What is he seeing?

I did some research into what people might be seeing when they say they’ve seen a black panther. There are many reported sightings of these cats, but the official word is that they don’t exist.
I was amazed by the number of wild cats that do exist in Texas. Some are familiar, like the ubiquitous bobcat, but some I had never heard of before. Some of the other cats can also be dark brown, grey or black. Is this what they are seeing? Or are there really black panthers out there? And just what is a panther, anyway?

Have You Ever Seen a Wildcat?

What is a panther?

Wikipedia defines a panther as the genus Panthera which includes lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. In Africa and Asia, the term refers to the leopard while in North America, the mountain lion or cougar. The Florida panther is a subspecies of the cougar. In Central and South America the term panther refers to a jaguar. Is a black panther really a panther? Is it really black? What about all these other cats?

Bobcats

Most people are familiar with bobcats (Lynx rufus) with their tufted ears and ruff around the head. They are a medium sized cat that is quite reclusive.

What I didn’t know is that they had such a variation of color. The can actually come in solid black which is called melanistic after the dark skin pigment melanin. There was one captured in Florida in 2007 after killing a pet turkey. The woman described it as the size of a large Labrador retriever but it turned out to be only 20 lbs. They generally weigh about 30 pounds but there was one bobcat who had been killed by a car that weighed 44 lbs. They are only three feet long – the length of a panther’s tail.

Mountain Lion, Cougar or Puma

Everyone has seen pictures of the mountain lion, (cougar, puma). Males may be as long as six feet and the average weight is 184 lbs.

There have been no cases of a black or melanistic cougar ever being photographed, shot or trapped and they have never bred one in captivity. It’s unlikely that this is what people have been seeing. They do, however, come in a silver grey color. They are nocturnal by nature so someone seeing one at night could possibly mistake it for black.

Jaguarundi

I had never heard of a jaguarundi before. They are about twice the size of a house cat, but with a very long tail and short legs. They move almost like an otter with their long bodies and tail and sometimes are called “ottercat."

They come in a variety of colors from a dark blackish grey to foxy red. Different colored kittens can be born in the same litter.

They hunt both in the daytime and night preying on small rodents and whatever they can catch. They are extremely rare, but there have been credible sightings in Texas. They are listed as endangered mostly due to loss of habitat.

Below is a short video of a jaguarundi kitten.

Jaguar

The Jaguar is the largest of the new world cats weighing in at 200 pounds and with a length of seven feet. They are found mostly in Mexico, Central and South America, although there was a breeding population in Arizona at one time. They are considered to be extinct elsewhere in the United States but it’s not impossible for a visiting cat to wander across the border.They are a solitary animal, hunting mostly during dawn and twilight. The have the capability of roaring.

Jaguars usually are spotted but they do have a melanistic phase. Some still show the spots but they could be hard to see at a distance or at night.jaguar

 black Jaguar

Image source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaguarby Bardrock

licensed by Wikimedia Commons

Ocelots

The Ocelot is considered the most beautiful wild cat in Texas with their cream colored coats with orange spots outlined in black. The base color can sometimes be grey. No two cats have the same markings. Many have been killed for their fur.

Adult males may be as much as 3 feet, 10 inches long and females up to 3 feet long and they weigh about 20-35 pounds.

According to most sources, there has been no evidence that there ever were any with melanistic properties although The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, by Maurice and Robert Burton states that there have been rare occurrences.

They are also on the endangered list due to loss of habitat.

Margay

The margay is similar to the ocelot, but smaller and more slender. Both cats have been kept as pets, but some individuals of both species have become dangerous as adults. Only one wild margay was confirmed in Texas and that was over 100 years ago. They are reported as not having a black phase.

The margay weighs from about 5 to 8 or 9 pounds, with a body length of 19 to 31 inches, and a tail length of 13 to 20 inches. Unlike most other cats, the female has only two teats.

The margay is solitary and nocturnal and also on the endangered list. They prefer to live in trees while the ocelot prefers to hunt on the ground. The margay can rotate its back feet to facilitate running head first down a tree truck. There has been at least one confirmed account of a margay using vocal mimicry to lure prey.

We still don't know what people are seeing when they say they have seen a black panther. I've watched many videos but it's often impossible to make out the scale of the animal. I imagine many of these videos are of black house cats.

It's true people have seen black bobcats and jaguarundis and maybe even black jaguars. Wouldn't that classify as a black panther? Just because no one has found a black cougar doesn't mean that they don't exist either. Keep watching and maybe you'll see one. Keep your camera handy.

Updated: on 06/15/2014, Ragtimelil
 
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Have you seen any wild cats?


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Ragtimelil 5 days ago

OOOO take your camera!

troy 5 days ago

My mother saw a black panther this afternoon on our ranch west of Weatherford. I was kind of skeptical ( they have black cows) until she said the next door neighbor had seen it that morning. He is kind of a no bull____ cowboy. Going hunting in two weeks so will see.

Ragtimelil on 09/21/2014

Ha I was more worried about her dog. I read recently that most bear attacks are caused by dogs so I imagine the same would be true for cats.

pateluday on 09/21/2014

In USA only the Florida Panther or Mountain Lion and Jaguar exists. Due to excessive pigmentation the coat appears black. These wild cats have always been living near human settlements like in my town in Central India. They space out themselves in outer areas and no one has been killed so far. Cats avoid men, attack is an aberration which happens rarely.

Ragtimelil on 09/18/2014

Oh scary. Glad you grabbed the dog and got away. Did you ever go back to see what it was doing?

Rebecca B. on 09/18/2014

Yes! I saw a black 'panther' in the Canyon Lake area in TX, this past July. I was walking my dog about 6:30 am along a wooded road. I heard the scream of a wildcat from within the woods. Several deer ran out from the woods, crossed the road, and disappeared back into the woods. Then I noticed the bushed rustling about 30 feet from me, and heard more wild cat sounds, as if it was attacking something. Suddenly a large black cat leapt from the bushes and pounced onto a tree. It was amazingly fast... ran all the way up the tree in just seconds. I grabbed my little dog and ran away. People question whether it was black, but it WAS. It was light enough and I could clearly see.

Ragtimelil on 08/15/2014

That's wonderful to be able to see those gorgeous cats but you do have a dilemma. The bobcat is coming around for the free food so the solution is to remove the food. But you are kindly wanting to feed the feral kittens. Yes, the bobcat may take the kittens for food. My suggestion is to trap the feral kittens and either bring them indoors or take them to a shelter that deals with feral cats.

Sharon on 08/15/2014

I live on the edge of a small town and have woods on one side of my property, as well as an orchard next to my house. Yesterday I saw a bobcat in the late afternoon out I my orchard. This is the second time I've seen him/her there. It looked quite large for the descriptions of bobcats that I've read, but it had the distinctive cropped tail and tufted ears. It is a beautiful creature but I would be afraid to confront it. I also have several feral kittens around my house that I worry becoming its pray. My husband has also seen this cat eating cat food off our front porch.

frankbeswick on 07/28/2014

The Scottish wildcat was once widespread across Britain, but was thought to have retreated to the Scottish Highlands and have become extinct in England and Wales. However, some feline sightings on Exmoor and Bodmin moor in South West Britain are consistent with relict populations of wildcats; I have spoken to someone brought up in rural Wales who thought that he had seen wildcat kittens.

However, the Scottish wild cat is interbreeding with feral and non-feral domestic cats, so it is now becoming harder to retain the pure wildcat.

Ragtimelil on 07/28/2014

Thanks Maritravel. But don't forget the Scottish Wildcat.




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