Even if you don’t know much about big cats, you’ve probably heard that leopards and cheetahs are related and look quite similar. You might even have heard the myth that leopards are in fact just cheetahs that are larger. But what really separates leopards from cheetahs? And how can you tell them apart?
In this article, we’ll dive into the most common differences between a cheetah and a leopard as well as learn some interesting facts about them to help you prepare for your African safari.
1. Leopard vs Cheetah – Appearance.
The first difference between a leopard and a cheetah is the color of their coat. At first glance, it may appear that both have spots, but a leopard has rosettes, which are rose-like markings, whereas cheetahs have a solid round or oval spots.
Cheetahs also have a tear line on their face, which distinguishes them from leopards and other big cats. These tear marks act as reflection absorbers while they are hunting on sunny days.
2. Leopard vs Cheetah – Behavior.
Cheetahs cannot roar and instead frequently chirp, growl, yowl, and purr. They are diurnal and hunt in the early morning or late evening. They hunt by sight rather than scent, and they tend to stalk prey before chasing them in a burst. Cheetahs also have a gestation period of 90 to 98 days and give birth to a litter of three to four cubs, though this can vary.
Leopards, on the other hand, prefer hunting at night. Their large pupil allows abundant light to enter, allowing them to hunt for prey at night. They also do not have a distinct breeding season and their gestation period lasts between 90 to 105 days. Females typically give birth to two cubs. These cubs are usually born with a dull grey coat rather than characteristic rose-like spots.
3. Leopard vs Cheetah – Size & Speed.
Cheetahs are taller at the shoulders and stand higher above the ground than leopards. They are far more slender, which contributes to their ability to run so fast reaching speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour and accelerating from 0 to 103 kilometers per hour in three seconds – faster than most sports cars. They also tend to use their long tails to counterbalance themselves while chasing down prey at high speeds, allowing them to change direction quickly while on the hunt.
Leopards, on the other hand, are the shortest of the big cats, even though they are strong and bulky, capable of pulling their prey up trees to protect their meal. They can only reach a top speed of about 58 kilometers per hour, but they make up for it with other abilities. They are also excellent swimmers.
4. Leopard vs Cheetah – Habitat.
Cheetahs prefer large open spaces to safely complete a hunt at top speed, so they are commonly found in wide grasslands and savannas.
Leopards, on the other hand, hunt by stalking and camouflage, so they prefer thicker vegetation and more densely covered areas such as forests, woodlands, and scrub, where they can hide more easily. Leopards also prefer to spend most of their time in trees, frequently lounging and sleeping all day before venturing out to hunt at night.
Unlike leopards, cheetahs prefer spending their time off the ground on fallen trees or termite mounds as they scan for prey and predators. They are not as at ease in trees as leopards and are not strong enough to hoist a kill into a tree.
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