Leopard or Cheetah – What is the Difference Between These Two Cats?

August 19, 2021

Ah, the big cat walking in the jungle – is it a leopard or a cheetah?

At first glance, these two seem very similar because they both have a coat of spots, but there are many differences between them. Similar to how a cafe latte and a cappuccino both have a light-brown milky color but are made of different measures of steamed milk.

If you’re keen to see these beauties in real life, book your African family vacation now to meet these cool cats.

Keep scrolling to learn the difference between the leopard and cheetah.

They’re usually found moving in a slow and graceful fashion in the high grass. But even if you manage to spot them, it’s difficult to tell if the creature in sight is a leopard or cheetah. The easiest way to spot either of these majestic cats is on an adventure-filled open-vehicle safari trip.

Difference Between Cheetah and Leopard

For a quick guide on the leopard vs. cheetah topic, refer to the shortlist of facts below:

  1. Cheetahs are lighter (but taller), leopards are bulkier and more muscular.
  2. Leopards roar and growl, cheetahs chirp and yelp.
  3. Cheetahs have solid round (or oval) shaped spots; leopards have rosette-shaped spots.
  4. Leopards have a more cat-like shape; cheetahs are lankier.
  5. Cheetahs have a black “tear” line on their face; leopards don’t have any tear lines.

Cheetah vs. Leopard: Facts Broken Down

cheetah-sitting

This article will unearth the differences between a leopard and a cheetah, along with some interesting facts that you can bring up at a family event to show off your animal knowledge. Or, if you’re on your way to a safari park, use the information from this article to look like a pro in front of your travel mates.

Leopard Spots – Leopard vs. Cheetah Print

The cause of the confusion and the most significant distinction between a cheetah and a leopard is the spots on their fur coat. To put it simply, cheetahs have spots, and leopards have rosettes.

A cheetah’s spots are either solid round or oval-shaped. The spots are small, individual (spaced apart), black, and spread over the cheetah’s entire body.

On the other hand, a leopard’s fur is an intricate rosette pattern that covers its torso and upper limbs. These rosettes are irregular in shape and grouped to look like rose markings. This pattern helps leopards to camouflage when hunting.

Check out this post for more information on the differences between a cheetah and leopard’s spots.

The Head and Face

cheetah-face-closeup

A cheetah possesses a small and round-shaped head, while a leopard’s is more elongated with dark black spots on its muzzle.

Cheetahs have black streak-like “tear marks” that run from the inner corner of their eyes to the mouth. A leopard has no such marks or lines on its face. It’s speculated that this line helps cheetahs reflect the sun’s glares so they can hunt during the day. It’s like sunglasses, but permanent.

At least cheetahs don’t have to worry about losing an expensive pair of sunglasses in the wild!

The Eyes

leopard-face-closeup

Ah, the eyes. Windows to the soul. In this case, a leopard or cheetah’s eyes are a warning to devour your soul.

A leopard’s eye color is more green-blue, while a cheetah’s is more amber-brown. Leopards have many light-sensitive cells in their eyes, allowing them to see movement and shapes in the dark easily. They also have large pupils, which would enable maximum light input, allowing them to see and hunt during the night.

Body Shape and Size:

Although leopards are stronger and bulkier than cheetahs, they are the smallest of the cats.

Cheetahs have a more slender and slim body type, but they’re taller. They have long legs to accelerate since they’re built for speed and a flexible spine to make quick changes in their direction when chasing their prey. Their flat and wide tail aids them in steering and maintaining balance.

Leopards have short and muscular legs with big shoulder and neck muscles to climb and drag their prey up trees. Their bodies are more compact for agility and tree-climbing. Their tail is more round (tubular) to provide balance when hoisting carcasses up trees.

Feet and Claws

A cheetah has bigger back feet to enable effective acceleration and explosive speed. Leopards have bigger front feet to carry their forequarters’ weight and lift their prey when climbing up trees.

Cheetahs have non-retractable to semi-retractable claws to facilitate rapid acceleration, turning at high speeds, and firmly gripping the ground when sprinting. Leopards have retractable claws (like most cats) to only use when necessary, like climbing trees and jumping on prey.

Speed – Is A Leopard Faster Than A Cheetah?

No, a cheetah is the fastest land mammal on Earth. They can accelerate from zero to 64mph (103km/h) in just three seconds. Their speed can go up to 74mph (120km/h) in a short period. Speed isn’t a leopard’s primary trait. But they can reach up to 37mph (60km/h) in a short distance.

Hunting

cheetah-with-prey-in-mouth

Granted that they’re the fastest land mammal on Earth, cheetahs use their speed to chase their prey and then swiftly capture them by tackling them from behind, tripping them, and finally going for the throat.

Leopards have their own style – they prefer to ambush in a slow and sneaky manner. They crouch low to the ground to catch their prey, sometimes for long periods, and stalk it. When ready, they attack, taking their victim by surprise.

While cheetahs prefer to hunt during the day (because they have poor night vision), leopards prefer hunting at night.

Habitat, Behaviour and Life Cycle

leopard-sleeping-on-tree-branch

Cheetahs are diurnal (active during the day). Leopards are nocturnal (active during the night).

Cheetahs prefer open grasslands, savannahs, and dense vegetation to facilitate their hunting style. You may find a cheetah resting on a small hill or termite mound, scanning the ground for its next kill.

In contrast, leopards are widely spread over savannahs, dense forests, mountains, and desert regions. A leopard can often be spotted napping or lying in trees.

Leopard and Cheetah Differences

Hopefully, now you can tell a cheetah from a leopard and vice versa. Both the animals may seem similar at first, but they are, in fact, two completely different personalities with their unique physical and behavioral traits.

It’s more challenging to spot a leopard because they are so quiet and secretive. But the chances are higher in savannah grasslands than in dense forests because there are fewer places for the leopard to hide.

Check out these cute cats on the hills and trees of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

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