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Panthera
is a genus of the family Felidae (the cats), which contains four well-known living species: the Tiger, the Lion, the Jaguar, and the Leopard. The genus comprises about half of the Pantherinae subfamily, the big cats. One meaning of the word panther is to designate cats of this subfamily.

According to the Dictionary, the origin of the word is unknown. A folk etymology derives the word from the Greek pan- ("all") and thēr ("beast of prey") because they can hunt and kill almost everything. The Greek word πάνθηρ, pánthēr, referred to all spotted Felidae generically. Although it came into English through the classical , some believe panthera could be of East Asian origin, meaning "the yellowish animal," or "whitish-yellow".

Only the four Panthera cat species have the anatomical structure which enables them to roar. The primary reason for this was formerly assumed to be the incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone. However, new studies show that the ability to roar is due to other morphological features, especially of the larynx. The Snow Leopard, Uncia uncia, which is sometimes included within Panthera, does not roar. Although it has an incomplete ossification of the hyoid bone, it lacks the special morphology of the larynx.


Evolution Edit

Like much of the Felidae family, Panthera has been subject to much debate and taxonomic revision. At the base of the genus is probably the extinct felid Viretailurus schaubi, which is also regarded as an early member of the Puma group. Panthera has likely derived in Asia, but the definite roots of the genus remain unclear. The divergence of the Pantherine cats (including the living genera Panthera, Uncia and Neofelis) from the Felinae (including all other living cat species) has been ranked between six and ten million years ago. The fossil record points to the emergence of Panthera just 2 to 3.8 million years ago

Morphological and genetic studies have suggested that the tiger was the first of the recent Panthera species to emerge from the lineage, but this remains unresolved. The Snow Leopard was seen originally at the base of the Panthera, but newer molecular studies suggest, that it is nestled within Panthera, and may be even a sister species of the Leopard. Many thus place the Snow Leopard within the genus Panthera, but there is currently no consensus whether Snow Leopard should retain its own genus, Uncia or be moved to Panthera uncia. A prehistoric feline, probably closely related to the modern Jaguar, is Panthera gombaszogensis, often called European Jaguar. This species appeared first around 1.6 million years ago in what is now Olivola in Italy.

The Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), which was divided in 2007 to distinguish the Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi), is generally placed at the basis of the Panthera group, but is not included in the genus Panthera itself.


Species, subspecies, and populations Edit

There have been many subspecies of all four Panthera species suggested; however, many of the Leopard and Lion subspecies are questionable. Recently it has been proposed that all sub-saharan populations of Leopards are all the same Leopard subspecies, and all sub-saharan populations of Lions likewise belong to the same Lion subspecies, as they do not have sufficient genetic distinction between them. Some prehistoric Lion subspecies have been described from historical evidence and fossils. They may have been separate species.

The 'Black panther' is not a distinct species but is just the common name for black (melanistic) specimens of the genus, most often encountered in Jaguar and Leopard species.


Taxa Edit

(Extinct species and subspecies are indicated with the symbol †)

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