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Cheetah vs. Leopard: What's the Difference?

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AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Editor's Note: Earlier this week, reader Caitlin Rogers asked, "I was planning on being a cheetah for Halloween and I've come up with a cheetah print dress, leopard print ears and tail, and a cheetah print clutch. The spots look the same to me. What's the difference between a cheetah and a leopard?" To prevent a Halloween faux pas, Matt Soniak is here with a special edition of 'What's the Difference?'

The Dilemma: You want to be a cheetah for Halloween. You do NOT want to be confused for a leopard.

People You Can Impress: Biologists, African tribes.

The Quick Trick: It's all in the spots. Cheetahs have simple black spots, while leopards have a more complex pattern.

The Explanation:

Both cats can be found across Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and southern Asia, and when encountered, both really just look like a scary mass of spots and teeth. When viewed from a safe vantage point, though, there are a number of physical and behavioral characteristics that set them apart.

cheetah-leopard.jpg

A cheetah, at left, and a leopard.

Cheetahs have solid black round/oval spots and black "tear lines" that run from the corner of their eyes down the sides of their nose to their mouth (the lines keep sunlight out of the cheetahs' eyes while hunting). They're also lankier than rest of the big cats and have smaller jaws and longer tails. They hunt during the day and rely on bursts of speed (up to 75mph over short distances). When walking and running, they pace, moving their two left legs and then their two right legs. Unlike leopards and other big cats, they can purr while they inhale, but can't roar.

Leopards have more complex spotting pattern of clusters of black and brown spots which look like roses, called rosettes. This pattern simulates shifting plants and shadows, providing camoflage as the leopards stalk their prey from tall grass and underbrush. Leopards in eastern Africa have circular rosettes, while their southern African brethren have square rosettes. Leopards are also noticeably bulkier looking than cheetahs. They're not built for speed, but surprise attacks. The extra strength helps leopards drag their prey up trees, where hide the kill to feed on at their leisure. Leopards walk using their legs in diagonal pairs (i.e. left front and right back leg, then right front and left back leg). Like the rest of the big cats, leopards can roar but can't purr except while they're exhaling.

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Win a Trip to Any National Park By Instagramming Your Travels
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If you're planning out your summer vacation, make sure to add a few national parks to your itinerary. Every time you share your travels on Instagram, you can increase your chances of winning a VIP trip for two to the national park of your choice.

The National Park Foundation is hosting its "Pic Your Park" sweepstakes now through September 28. To participate, post your selfies from visits to National Park System (NPS) properties on Instagram using the hashtag #PicYourParkContest and a geotag of the location. Making the trek to multiple parks increases your points, with less-visited parks in the system having the highest value. During certain months, the point values of some sites are doubled. You can find a list of participating properties and a schedule of boost periods here.

Following the contest run, the National Park Foundation will decide a winner based on most points earned. The grand prize is a three-day, two-night trip for the winner and a guest to any NPS property within the contiguous U.S. Round-trip airfare and hotel lodging are included. The reward also comes with a 30-day lease of a car from Subaru, the contest's sponsor.

The contest is already underway, with a leader board on the website keeping track of the competition. If you're looking to catch up, this national parks road trip route isn't a bad place to start.

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15 Dad Facts for Father's Day
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Gather 'round the grill and toast Dad for Father's Day—the national holiday so awesome that Americans have celebrated it for more than a century. Here are 15 Dad facts you can wow him with today.

1. Halsey Taylor invented the drinking fountain in 1912 as a tribute to his father, who succumbed to typhoid fever after drinking from a contaminated public water supply in 1896.

2. George Washington, the celebrated father of our country, had no children of his own. A 2004 study suggested that a type of tuberculosis that Washington contracted in childhood may have rendered him sterile. He did adopt the two children from Martha Custis's first marriage.

3. In Thailand, the king's birthday also serves as National Father's Day. The celebration includes fireworks, speeches, and acts of charity and honor—the most distinct being the donation of blood and the liberation of captive animals.

4. In 1950, after a Washington Post music critic gave Harry Truman's daughter Margaret's concert a negative review, the president came out swinging: "Some day I hope to meet you," he wrote. "When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"

5. A.A. Milne created Winnie the Pooh for his son, Christopher Robin. Pooh was based on Robin's teddy bear, Edward, a gift Christopher had received for his first birthday, and on their father/son visits to the London Zoo, where the bear named Winnie was Christopher's favorite. Pooh comes from the name of Christopher's pet swan.

6. Kurt Vonnegut was (for a short time) Geraldo Rivera's father-in-law. Rivera's marriage to Edith Vonnegut ended in 1974 because of his womanizing. Her ever-protective father was quoted as saying, "If I see Gerry again, I'll spit in his face." He also included an unflattering character named Jerry Rivers (a chauffeur) in a few of his books.

7. Andre Agassi's father represented Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics as a boxer.

8. Charlemagne, the 8th-century king of the Franks, united much of Western Europe through military campaigns and has been called the "king and father of Europe" [PDF]. Charlemagne was also a devoted dad to about 18 children, and today, most Europeans may be able to claim Charlemagne as their ancestor.

9. The voice of Papa Smurf, Don Messick, also provided the voice of Scooby-Doo, Ranger Smith on Yogi Bear, and Astro and RUDI on The Jetsons.

10. In 2001, Yuri Usachev, cosmonaut and commander of the International Space Station, received a talking picture frame from his 12-year-old daughter while in orbit. The gift was made possible by RadioShack, which filmed the presentation of the gift for a TV commercial.

11. The only father-daughter collaboration to hit the top spot on the Billboard pop music chart was the 1967 hit single "Something Stupid" by Frank & Nancy Sinatra.

12. In the underwater world of the seahorse, it's the male that gets to carry the eggs and birth the babies.

13. If show creator/producer Sherwood Schwartz had gotten his way, Gene Hackman would have portrayed the role of father Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.

14. The Stevie Wonder song "Isn't She Lovely" is about his newborn daughter, Aisha. If you listen closely, you can hear Aisha crying during the song.

15. Dick Hoyt has pushed and pulled his son Rick, who has cerebral palsy, through hundreds of marathons and triathlons. Rick cannot speak, but using a custom-designed computer he has been able to communicate. They ran their first five-mile race together when Rick was in high school. When they were done, Rick sent his father this message: "Dad, when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"

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