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 28 days ago

Sorry Steve. That link doesn't work.

Steve 28 days ago

We see bobcats on our bicycle trail at River Legacy Park all the time. There are several females and they usually have a kitten or 3 each spring.

This album on FB has several wild critters I've seen while cycling.

https://www.facebook.com/S.Black/medi...

Ragtimelil on 06/15/2014

Possibly a grey cougar? If you see it in the evening, it might look black in the twilight. Keep trying to get that picture.

Brenda on 06/15/2014

about 7years ago I saw what appeared to be a very large black cat. It was the size of a deer. It appeared to be black. It was at sunset could have been dark gray and had a very long tail. Then it had not been seen until 2 weeks ago. My son came to me and described exactly what I saw years ago. I had never told my kids about this animal I had seen so I believed him. Now this cat has been seen by my son and now by my daughter. Just the other night my husband came to me and said after thinking all of us were crazy, he had see the same thing but, didn't get a full view of the cat because it was at sunset and the speed of this animal is lightning fast. I live in king George, Virginia. What kind of cat could this be? I would guess this animal would be weighing in about 80 lbs or more. With my height being 5'3" this cat would be as high as my waist. I wish I could get a photo of this cat but it is too fast. I have 50 acres of wooded area by my house and t least 200 acres of farmland on the other side. Any insight would be appreciated.

Ragtimelil on 11/19/2013

Whoa! Cool. Too bad it wasn't a camera lens. I'd love to see a picture!

Patrick Daniel on 11/19/2013

at 7:45 this morning I saw what at first I thiught was a dog but when I put my rifle scope on it I saw it was a large black cat about 35 or 40 lbs or more about 225 yards from me walking across a dry pond bed in Bosque county off FM1713 close to Lake Whitney

Ragtimelil on 05/14/2013

Wow. that's not far from me! Did you take pictures? Let me know if you see anything.

MrsR on 05/14/2013

I thought I saw a very large, dark one on a later afternoon drive in my neighborhood of The Woodlands, Texas a week or so ago, but when I looked back there was nothing there. I forgot about it until this afternoon when I visited my new house under construction. An unknown feline visitor left six paw prints in the soft mud just off the back porch, each the width of my left hand (3" at the palm). Don't think I'll be going there in the evenings anymore!

Ragtimelil on 08/26/2012

The lynx is the one we don't have down here in the south. They like the cold. Thanks. Ocelots are pretty cats, aren't they.

sheilamarie on 08/26/2012

Why yes I have. We have cougars and bobcats and the occasional lynx. Nice article. Those ocelots are gorgeous!



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