The Melanistic Bengal
Although many people believe that there is one animal that is called a black panther, the term black panther is the common name for a black specimen (a melanistic variant) of any of several species of cats. The term Black Panther is referring to a melanistic (black) member of the Panthera family, or big cats. This means it could be a leopard, jaguar, lion or tiger. Melanistic, derived from melanin, is a dark colored skin and hair pigment. The term melanism does not mean that they are actually black, but that they are full of color. In cats, melanism results in the fur of the animal being very dark or black in color. Close examination of one of these black cats will show that the typical markings are still there, and are simply hidden by the surplus of the black pigment melanin. In many cases if you view a melanistic cat in bright sunlight, the markings of the animal can be faintly seen through the dark fur, especially at certain angles. Melanistic cats are commonly born into mixed litters along with normally colored siblings. Black panthers occur from a genetic mutation that cause them to produce more black pigment than orange-tan pigment, thus resulting in a largely black coloring. The same genetic mutation can occur in a Bengal litter. For this reason, while we do not breed for the melanistic gene, we do occasionally have a melanistic Bengal that pops up in one of our litters.