6 Differences Between Leopard and Cheetah

Have you ever mistaken a cheetah for a leopard or vice versa? At first glance, you may think that they are the same, but they are not. Both of them are big cats, but they have distinctive features that make them different.

By knowing these differences, you will be able to distinguish them like a pro later in the safari. The differences include the behavior, body shape, habitat and others that require you to look at them closer, such as claws and markings.

Let’s take a closer look at how different cheetah and leopard are.

  • Body Shape and Size

Cheetahs are taller than leopards at the shoulder. They stand higher above the ground, but they are more slender. Cheetahs weigh about 72 kg and much of their muscles are sacrificed to make them streamlined. Their body shape is built for speed and that what makes them become the fastest land animal as they can reach the top speeds of 120 km per hour!

Their build is aerodynamic which is made up of very long bodies along with the flexible spine. The flexible spine enables them for rapid changes in direction, a small, rounded head, high chest with thin stomach and shoulder blades.

On the contrary, leopards are considered as the shortest of the big cats even though they are bulkier than cheetahs. They can weigh up to 100 kg and much more muscular than cheetahs.

They use their muscular body for stalking and ambushing their prey, carrying their kill up trees to protect their meal. Read more about the other species of South American wild cats.

Cheetahs and leopards also have different strength. A leopard won’t hesitate to chase away any cheetah that approaches its territory in the wild.

  • Shape of Tail

A cheetah’s tail is more flat in shape. Many people think of it as a rudder that the cheetah can use to steer itself while running at top speeds. On the contrary, a leopard’s tail is more tubular in shape that enables it to balance its body, especially when they’re hoisting carcasses, climbing up and down trees and teetering on branches high above the ground.

  • Coat

At a glance, you may think that cheetahs and leopards have similar pattern of coat. However, they don’t. Cheetahs have a solid round or oval spot shape, which is separated clearly from the other spots on their body.

On the other hand, leopards’s spots are smaller and irregular in shape. Besides, the spots are also grouped together in circles which form “rosettes”, which is rose-like markings.

One similar thing about both coats is they use these coat to camouflage from other animals, enabling them to get close to their prey before attacking.

  • Facial Markings

A leopard’s face is covered in a continuation of the “rosette” pattern while a cheetah’s face is identifiable by its black “tear line” running from the inner corner of the eyes down to the side of its mouth. There’s a theory claiming that the tear mark helps cheetah to absorb sunlight and reduces glare into the eyes while hunting.

Besides facial markings, their eye color is also different. A cheetah has amber eyes, a leopard’s eye can be anything ranging from bright blue to bright green.

  • Feet and Claws

Leopards possess larger front feet than the back ones. These feet support the large and muscular forequarters they have to help hoist carcasses up trees. They have retractable claws and they are used only when necessary, such as for climbing trees, fighting or pouncing on prey.

Different with leopards, cheetahs have large black feet as they require explosive spee. The large black feet help them with massive acceleration. Cheetahs also have another adaptation for acceleration, which is they are not able to retract their claws fully. The claws are semi-retractable which give them extra traction.

  • Hunting Behavior

These two big cats also have different hunting behavior. Leopards are nocturnal cats, so they tend to be more active at night. They are equipped with large number of light-sensitive cells in the eyes to help detect movement in the dark.

Their eyes also have large pupils to maximize the amount of absorbed light. While hunting, leopards spend long periods of time crouching low to the ground, creeping up on the prey, getting close enough to leap on it to kill it. They have element of surprise while hunting.

Due to the very fast speed, cheetahs are considered as one of the members of the fastest land animals. On the other hand, cheetahs are diurnal. It means that they hunt mostly during the day time. During their hunting, cheetahs chase their prey at high speed.

Then, they bring their prey down by tripping them with a swipe at their hind legs, without leaping on them. While cheetahs are diurnal which are active during the day, nocturnal animals are active during night, such as bats.

Cheetah is listed as one of the wildlife to discover in the African savanna. See the other deadliest animals in Africa too!