The Melanistic Bengal

Melanistic Bengal cat

The Melanistic Bengal

The Melanistic Bengal is black, sleek and shiny with a ghost panther pattern.

Melanistic Bengal cat

Silverstorm Melanistic kitten

The black, melanistic Bengal is not recognised by many registries as an acceptable colour. However that does not make it less desirable for many pet owners, or breeders wishing  to perpetuate and perfect this unique trait. At Silverstorm we have successfully bred many melanistic Bengals and can’t help but be captivated by their beauty!
Seeing this ghost panther pattern on a wild looking Bengal is very striking. It adds to the allure of this miniature black panther.

There are many examples of melanism among felines.
Melanism is caused by changes in the agouti gene which controls banding of black and light areas around the hair shaft. Leopards and Jaguars affected by this condition are commonly known as black panthers.

Black panther

Melanistic Jaguar – Black Panther

A black Bengal cat is also known as a melanistic Bengal. Melanistic which means ‘ having very dark skin or hair’. This is because it contains a higher than normal level of pigment.
This is the same term used to describe melanism in black panthers or any other animal with a dark, solid coat.

What makes a Black Bengal ?

Coat colour is regulated by the agouti gene in many species of animals and imparts red and yellow pigments into the coat. The agouti gene allele (A) is dominant, meaning that the red and yellow pigments will be expressed even when there is just one copy of this allele present. Such as the beautiful brown Bengals.

Sometimes, the non-agouti allele (a) can be expressed, resulting in a black or melanistic coat and skin color in cats. In order for a cat to have a black coat, it must have two copies of the non-agouti gene allele. This gene is recessive, meaning that both male and female cats must carry the allele (a) for any kittens to be born with a black, melanistic coat. When the non-agouti gene is present, the agouti signaling is suppressed, allowing for the production of eumelanin (black pigment) to be evenly distributed across the coat.

Where did these Black Bengals come from?

Jean Mill (Jean was one of the creators  of the Bengal breed) was the first to record a crossing of a domestic cat to an Asian Leopard cat. This was an accidental crossing between a black domestic tom cat and a leopard cat. This means that the requisite genetics for black coat colour were present in the Bengal line very early on.

The Smoke or Silver-Melanistic

With the pattern being black on black it is often difficult to capture the phenomena with a camera, but generally easily noted with the naked eye. One can note here that the same is true of the black panthers. How ever there is another type of Melanistic Bengal in which the pattern can be easily captured on camera, the Smoke Bengal .

When a Melanistic Bengal has the silver inhibitor gene, it is genetically a ‘smoke’. The smoke is technically a silver  Melanistic, although this is not the official term used . A smoke Bengal is black just like a Melanistic, but the hair at the roots is white. These combined make the pattern much more apparent and give a ‘smoky’ effect.

The Ultimate Black Cat

Only two types of big cats are scientifically recognized as legitimate black panthers, the black leopard and the black jaguar. Both are members of the genus panthera, but occupy different parts of the world.


Melanistic black Bengal cat

Silverstorm Bagheera is a Melanistic Bengal


Black panther

Black Panther

Like melanistic Bengals, the “black panther” is a colour variant of the “normal” coat coloration with rosettes. The principal difference between a “normal” and melanistic member of the genus panthera is that the melanistic leopard or jaguar’s coat is a dark shade of brown to black. If you look closely at them, you can see the rosettes against the dark, melanistic coat. Melanism in leopards is caused by rosettes ar recessive genes. Melanistic leopards are usually part of a larger litter of “normally” pigmented littermates. They are the most common form of black panther in captivity,  and have been selectively bred for decades in the zoo and exotic pet trades.
In jaguars, the melanism is dominant. Consequently, black jaguars can produce black or spotted cubs, but a pair of spotted jaguars will only produce spotted cubs. In the Americas, the black jaguar was sufficiently common that the indigenous peoples considered it a separate species.

Melanism is an Advantage

It is thought that melanism may confer a selective advantage for the nocturnal hunter since it is more common in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Black leopards and black jaguars occur most frequently in forests and jungle areas, which are heavily shaded or dark. Studies also suggest that melanism might be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.
Leopards and jaguars are similar in appearance, size, and longevity. The most visible difference is that the leopard’s rosettes are normally the colour of the background coat.

The jaguar’s rosettes have a black spot in the center. The two species occupy separate continents. The similarity suggests that the jaguar evolved from leopards that crossed the land bridge that existed during the past ice ages between Siberia and Alaska across the Bering Sea.

If you find yourself under the spell of the magnificent black panthers and the idea of a miniature, domestic version appeals to you , then the magic of the black Bengal cat will appeal to you.


Panther cub

Panther cub

Black Melanistic kitten

Silverstorm cub



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