There are a couple of large cat species that are spotted, including cheetahs, leopards and jaguars. While each species has a unique kind of spot, many people find it difficult to tell the difference at a glance.
Cheetahs, however, have a unique identifying mark that can be used to tell the difference with just a quick look. Cheetahs are the only spotted cat that hunt in the day time, an adaptation to avoid direct competition with bigger, stronger predators. The give-away marking that shows this is the black tear line that runs down on either side of a cheetah’s face. This black mark stops the sunlight from reflecting into their eyes – just like the eye black that athletes wear.
Cheetah’s spots are referred to as “true” markings – they are marked on their skin as well, not just their fur. As well as the spots themselves, there are lots of other differences between the spotted cat species, including size, anatomy and behavior, but the tear marks are a good, quick way to distinguish.
So the next time you see a spotted face peeking from a zoo enclosure (or even the wild!), you’ll know if it’s a cheetah that’s watching you!