S ightings of “black panthers” are common throughout Texas. Many hunters, fishermen, birdwatchers, hikers and people of all walks of life reporting seeing large long-tailed black cats they label as “black panthers.”
The problem there is no such species as a “black panther” anywhere in the world.
What about the large black cats seen in zoos and on television programs? Those are black leopards or black jaguars.
Melanism occurs when an excessive amount of black pigment dominates coloration of an animal. It happens in many animals ranging from squirrels to whitetail deer. Melanism is not uncommon in leopards in certain parts of their range. This is also true with jaguars. The black cats you see in zoos and on television are all melanistic leopards or jaguars.
The general assumption with “black panther” sightings in Texas is that these are black or melanistic cougars. The problem is there has never been a melanistic cougar observed by science either in a zoo, captive setting, killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or otherwise positively identified.
For melanistic cougars to be the answer to Texas’s “panther” question there would have to be many of them, and there is no proof of any of them.
Jaguars as previously mentioned however do throw melanistic offspring and are native to Texas. They were allegedly wiped out more than 100 years ago, but our investigations show there are still isolated sightings of typical spotted jaguars in Texas. That is an important point because if jaguars were present, there might also be sightings of black specimens.
Recent research shows that melanism is a dominant trait in jaguars. In other words, if a male jaguar for example moves into an area and starts breeding females there is a good chance much of the offspring will be melanistic as well.
Could a remnant population of jaguars survive that has the dominant melanistic genes? That is not a likely answer for the entire “black panther” phenomenon, but it is not out of the range of possibility for some of the sightings reported throughout the years.
Melanism is also present, albeit rare, in bobcats.
Melanistic bobcats have been killed and mounted in Texas. In fact, one by taxidermist Steve Moye was mounted leaping at a quail and hung in the Gander Mountain sporting goods store in Beaumont, Texas for the better part of a decade.
Our experience shows that many people cannot differentiate between a bobcat and a cougar. Many are surprised that bobcats have tails at all. In fact some have tails as long as eight inches. A black bobcat could easily be labeled a “black panther” by someone who is not aware of melanism in the species.
Besides people who don’t understand basic animal identification, the biggest problem in misidentifying cougars and bobcats is scale. A large bobcat seen at a distance with nothing to compare it to, looks much larger than it really is.
This is why feral house cats are often to blame for “black panther” sightings. Many are shocked to see house cats in the woods, but the fact is they are all over the place and have established populations in many wild areas of the state.
A large black house cat seen at a distance has been the cause of many “black panther” sightings this author has investigated. In fact the bulk of videos and photos attributed to these mysterious cats have turned out to be only house cats.
The jaguarundi is another prime candidate for “black anther” sightings. A large jaguarundi in the common dark gray or chocolate brown phase, crossing a road in front of a motorist or appearing before an unsuspecting hunter could easily be labeled a “black panther.”
Because very few people are aware of jaguarundis, it’s highly unlikely they would report seeing one. Everyone can relate to a “black panther” and virtually no one has ever heard of a jaguarundi.
In our section on jaguarundis, we cited research that shows they live far away from their verified range. In fact, there is interest in jaguarundis as far east as Florida where sightings are reported frequently.
Is the jaguarundi responsible for all “black panther” reports in the United States? That’s not likely. Are they the source of many sightings in the South and Southwest? There is no doubt in my mind.
Some suggest the “black panther” sightings are the result of a “circus train” crash where its animals got loose. This story has been repeated over and over in Texas, and locations change with the retelling.
We find no evidence of this.
If black leopards were to escape the chance of them surviving and producing offspring wide-ranging enough for a phenomenon like this to take place is beyond far-fetched. Additionally, why would only black leopards escape? Where are the lions and the monkeys and elephants?.
Isolated cases of exotic cats escaping have occurred, but in the author’s opinion they are not the source of many sightings in Texas or at any other location in North America.
And if you think a black panther is a stretch how about a white one?
In January 2016 an interesting story broke via KLTV out of Tyler. Landowner Mitchell Cox of Hughes Springs captured on video what he and many others think is a “white panther.”
“When I saw the white animal, the first thing I thought was, it was a dog,” said landowner Mitchell Cox in the KLTV story.
“The cat jumps across about a six-foot creek there’” investigator Hershel Stroman, of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office told KLTV officials. “My initial thought was that it was an edited video, but upon talking to people I believe it’s true. A white albino mountain lion.”
The video is interesting and the animal moves like a cougar, but without a closer video (this one was a short 50 yards away) it is difficult to tell.
In 2011 a white cougar was born at the Attica Zoological Park in Greece and was aptly named “Casper,” which shows there is one more white cougar than known black ones on the planet.
If you have game camera photos or videos of mysterious cats in Texas, email them to me at the address below.
Email Chester Moore at
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]