Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter coloured and of a softer, downy type.
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Large males of up to 91 kg (201 lb) have been documented in Kruger National Park in South Africa; however, males in South Africa's coastal mountains average 31 kg (68 lb) and the females from the desert-edge in Somalia average 23 to 27 kg (51 to 60 lb).
This wide variation in size is thought to result from the quality and availability of prey found in each habitat.
The expected time to fixation of this recessive allele due to genetic drift alone ranged from about 1,100 years to about 100,000 years.
It is thought the leopard has erythrism, a little-understood genetic condition that causes either an overproduction of red pigments or an underproduction of dark pigments.
Leopards may sometimes be confused with two other large spotted cats, the cheetah, with which it may co-exist in Africa, and the jaguar, a neotropical species that it does not naturally co-exist with.
However, the patterns of spots in each are different: the cheetah has simple black spots, evenly spread; the jaguar has small spots inside the polygonal rosettes; while the leopard normally has rounder, smaller rosettes than those of the jaguar.
Its fur is marked with rosettes similar to those of the jaguar, but the leopard's rosettes are smaller and more densely packed, and do not usually have central spots as the jaguars do.
Both leopards and jaguars that are melanistic are known as black panthers.
Their rosettes are circular in East Africa but tend to be squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations.
Their yellow coat tends to be more pale and cream colored in desert populations, more gray in colder climates, and of a darker golden hue in rainforest habitats.
The leopard's success in the wild is due to its well camouflaged fur, its opportunistic hunting behavior, broad diet and strength to move heavy carcass into trees, its ability to adapt to various habitats ranging from rainforest, steppe to arid and montane areas and to run at speeds up to 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph).