Jaguar (Panthera onca)
A predatory mammal from the family of big cats
Jaguars are third among the largest cats in the world. Only lions and tigers are bigger. Jaguar is also the largest and most formidable cat in the western hemisphere, and it has the strongest jaws among cats.
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Felidae
- Genus: Panthera
- Species: Jaguar (Panthera onca)
Jaguar and leopard – differences
The jaguar is a very muscled cat. Although it resembles the leopard in appearance, it is more robust – it has relatively short, chunky limbs and a well-built chest. The jaguar may be distinguished from the leopard by the look of rosettes – those of the jaguar have small central spots. The habitats, features and behaviors of the jaguar are very similar to those of the tiger. See Comparison of jaguar and leopard.
Fans of motorization may feel offended, but the leopard, in our opinion, is more graceful than the jaguar 🙂
The jaguar inhabits both grassy areas and tropical forests in South and Central America. It can be also found on deserts in the southern part of North America (Arizona). Extinct species could also be found in Asia, Europe and Africa, where the species evolved over 2 million years ago. The analysis of mitochondrial DNA showed, however, that the jaguar appeared on Earth 280-510 thousand years ago, which is later than archaeological finds suggested.
Jaguars are great swimmers, so they choose habitats rich in water resources (swamps). They are fond of seasonally flooded forests and thickets at river banks.
Forest is the jaguar’s element
Jaguars are rare in open areas. They feel great in semi-darkness of tropical forests. The characteristic pattern on the jaguar’s fur provides it with perfect camouflage among patches of light and shadows, which makes hunting easier.
Jaguars usually have reddish and yellowish fur. Stomach, inner legs, front of the neck and chin are usually white.
The back and sides are partially covered with black round or linear markings, and partially with larger yellowish-red spots and rings with black edges (rosettes).
In all subspecies of the jaguar, despite a variety of coloration, you can always see a black spot in the corner of the mouth and a dark marking with white or yellow center on the back of the ear.
Although it’s rare, there are also darker or entirely black, melanistic types of jaguars, so called “black panthers”. Similar individuals may be also found among leopards. The black panther has black fur, both in the jaguar and leopard, because of the greater amount of pigment (melanin).
Jaguar’s hunting, diet, and prey
The jaguar hunts mostly on the ground (although it can climb trees), usually at night. It uses the bite force which it uses to sink its teeth into the neck of its prey as soon as possible after an attack.
The jaguar can run really fast for short distances, but it gets tired very easily, so chasing its prey isn’t its strongest skill.
Jaguars, as most of cats, have to attack their prey by surprise. They mostly hunt big mammals (tapirs, capybaras, peccaries). When the jaguar is hungry, it also eats smaller mammals and birds, tortoises, and caimans. It often feeds on fish. The jaguar can lie silent above water surface and quickly grab a fish with its forepaw, just as bears do. After having caught its prey, the jaguar moves it in a safer place. Food waste is buried. A hungry and threatened jaguar can attack a human.
Jaguars were cult objects for indigenous people of America, including the ancient Maya people and the Aztec.
Detailed characteristic / size
Jaguar (Panthera onca)
- Body length without the tail: 120-185 cm (3ft 11in – 6ft)
- Tail length: 45-75 cm (18 to 30 in)
- Height at shoulders: 63-76 cm (25 to 30 in)
- Weight: 56-96 kg (123 – 211 lb), 160 kg (352 lb) maximum
- Gestation period: 91-111 days
- Sexual maturity: females: 1-2 years, males 2-3 years
- Number of cubs in a litter: 1-4 (usually 2-3)
- Lifespan: 11-12 years in the wild, to 28 years in captivity
- Females are 10–20% smaller than males
Jaguar – interesting facts
- Jaguars have the strongest jaws among all felids.
- Jaguars are solitary for most of a year, similarly to tigers.
- In the mating season (August and September), males fight with each other.
- Young jaguars weigh 0.7-0.9 kg (1 lb 9 oz – 1 lb 16 oz) after birth.
- Jaguars include also individuals called “black panthers”.
- Jaguars are very difficult to tame. Although it’s relatively easy with their cubs, adult individuals may be threatening even for their caretakers.
- Jaguars can be bred with lions in captivity – a crossbred between a male jaguar and lioness is called a jaglion, and a crossbred between a lion and female jaguar is called a liguar.
- In zoos, jaguars often live twice or even thrice longer than in the wild.
- Jaguars breed every two years.