This isn’t about the film at all, I’ll let you know right now. The title is a blatant, shameless attempt to trick people into reading this. But now that you’re here, haven’t you ever wanted to learn more about the words leopard and panther?
Leopard is an interesting word, partly because pronouncing it correctly is tricky for non-native speakers. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other words where eo has the /e/ sound, so a lot of people end up pronouncing it phonetically, like lee-o-pard. Even if this sounds odd to us English speakers, etymologically it kind of makes sense.
You see, the leo part of leopard refers to lions. Like in the star sign Leo. The word comes from the Latin leopardus, literally meaning lion-panther. When Europeans first spotted leopards, they believed them to be hybrids of lions and panthers (which kind of makes sense if you think of a leopard as combining the colours of a lion and the body of a panther). The Latin name for a leopard is Panthera pardus. Panthera is the genus (including lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards), and pardus, referring to the specific species, literally means male panther. So in one way, the name is quite redundant, literally meaning male panther panther, basically. But in another way, it seems somewhat ill-chosen, because you might well look at a leopard and say, That’s not a panther!
And you’d be right. But then what if I told you that there’s no such thing as a panther?
Shocking, I know, but true, in a way. When I told you earlier that a leopard was believed to be a hybrid of a lion and panther, you probably pictured a lion and a big, sleek, black cat. But panther in this case actually refers to a mythical creature, basically a big cat with a multicoloured coat (I don’t know why people liked just making up animals in ancient times). The panther you pictured is specifically a black panther. Even then though, you could argue that a black panther doesn’t exist.
Except they do of course, because you’ve seen them in the zoo. The thing is though, that a black panther is specifically a black (melanistic) version of any black cat. That being said, there have never been cases of melanistic lions and tigers (though there are white ones), and most melanistic black cats are either leopards or jaguars, which look very similar when you can’t see their different spot patterns.
So yes, there is such a thing as a black panther, but if you encouter one alone in the jungle, be sure to take a moment to try to identify whether it’s a leopard or a jaguar.