Leopards have an elongate and muscular body. Their paws are broad and their ears are short. In tropical regions their coats tend to be shorter and sleeker, whereas in colder climates their fur is longer and denser. The coloration varies from the color of straw to grayish to even chesnut. The backs of the ears are black except for a spot either located centrally or near the tips.
These appear to other animals as eyes. The throat, chest, belly, and the insides of the limbs are white. The rest of the head, throat, chest, and limbs all have small black spots. The belly has larger black spots, almost like blotches. Region and habitat have an affect on the appearance of P. pardus.
In Africa, leopards living in hilly areas tend to be larger than those living in lowlands. There is a tendency to melanism (black coloration) in this species. This characteristic is more frequent in densely forested areas where being darker is probably beneficial in remaining unseen as compared to open areas. Whether spotted or black, leopards’ coloration is extremely effective. Scientists have been unable to spot these cats just a few yards away even knowing that they were present. Leopards have been recorded as long as 2.92 meters but that is extreme, 1.37-1.67 is more common.
Leopards are famous for their ability to go undetected. They may live practically among humans and still be tough to spot. They are graceful and stealthy. Amongst the big cats they are probably the most accomplished stalkers. They are good, agile climbers and can descend from a tree headfirst. Along with climbing, they are strong swimmers but not as fond of water as tigers; for example, leopards will not lay in water. They are mainly nocturnal but can be seen at any time of day and will even hunt during daytime on overcast days.
In regions where they are hunted, nocturnal behavior is more common. These cats are solitary, avoiding one another. However, 3 or 4 are sometimes seen together. Hearing and eyesight are the strongest of these cats’ senses and are extremely acute. Olfaction is relied upon as well, but not for hunting. When making a threat, leopards stretch their backs, depress their rib cages between their shoulder blades so they stick out, and lower their heads (similar to domestic cats). During the day they may lie in bush, on rocks, or in a tree with their tails hanging below the treetops and giving them away.