Whenever I am at a zoo I always hear kids and adults alike call animals by the wrong name. The most common mistake I hear is whenever they see a cheetah, leopard, or jaguar, people assume it is a cheetah. The hardest ones to tell apart are the leopard and jaguar because they have very similar spots and body build. Though in the wild it is easier because they live on different continents. These cats have many features and behaviors that differentiate them from each other, although, in the case of the cheetah and leopard, they live in the same place. In this post I have listed out key differences between these three beautiful big cats so you can educate those around you while visiting your favorite zoo.
- Body: lean and lanky
- Weight: 80-100 lbs
- Speed: 70 mph
- Hunt during the day and solitary
- Life span: 8-10 years (in the wild)
- Largest cat that purrs; can’s roar
- Lives in Africa
- Circular spots
- Body: more stalky than cheetah; less than jaguar
- Weight: 66-176 lbs
- Speed: 36 mph
- Hunt at night and solitary
- Life span: 12-17 years (in wild)
- Roars; can’t purr
- Lives in Africa
- Rosette spots
- Most stalky of the 3
- Good swimmer/enjoys the water
- Life span: 12-15yeas (in wild)
- Lives in South America; solitary
- Weight: 100-250 lbs
- Rosette spots with spots in them
December 4th is a day set aside for the fastest land animal on Earth: the cheetah! Wildlife Safari is home to 20 cheetahs, both cubs and adults! Our youngest little ones are just over 15 weeks old and are growing larger and stronger every day. Cheetah cubs will stay with their mothers for the first 1.5 – 2 years of their life. During this time the mother feeds them, protects them, and teaches them how to fend for themselves. Our four cubs, Amani, Roudy, Zigzag, and Corey, are lucky to have a mom who takes care of them very well.
The cheetah has adapted to a quick lifestyle; a 70mph lifestyle to be exact. The cheetah’s anatomy is specifically built for speed. They have slender bodies that allow them to be agile and accelerate from 0 – 60mph in less than 3 seconds! Other adaptations that allow this are their flexible spine, semi retractible claws, enlarged nasal cavities and lungs.
Many people mistake a leopard or jaguar for a cheetah. However, the cheetah has a distinguishable face by their tear marks that run down their face from their eyes. These two black stripes are the only stripes on a cheetah’s body and help refract the sunlight out of their eyes, allowing them to hunt during the morning and evening hours. Another way to tell a cheetah apart from other cats are by their spots. A cheetah has 2 – 3 thousand solid black spots on their bodies. These spots are to help camouflage them into their environment and to help cool them off after a run.
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.
A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari
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!
You’re probably familiar with the characteristic spots on cheetahs, and stripes on tigers, but not many people have had the chance to look at them closely. These two species both have what we call “true” markings, where their spots or stripes go all the way down to the skin! This means that it is not just the fur that has these bold patterns, its their skin as well.
Riya the Sumatran tiger
These patterns help them to camouflage and hide in their surroundings, helping them to sneak up on their prey unseen.
While they may seem pretty conspicuous up close, when they are in amongst grass or bushes in dappled sunlight they are extremely difficult to spot.