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Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

The jaguar's coloring and markings are very similar to that of the leopard. The difference is that jaguars have spots inside the rosettes. Leopards don't. The jaguar's coat on its side and back is spotted with large black rosettes, each consisting of a circle of spots surrounding a central spot. The spots on its head, legs, and underside are solid black. Another reason that people confuse jaguars with leopards is because jaguars, like leopards, sometimes occur with an all black (melanistic) coat. And, like the leopard, the spots can be seen as black on a dark brown background. There are also a few occurences of albino jaguars, as well.

Distribution and Description

The name Jaguar comes from the ancient Indian name "yaguar" which meant "the killer which overcomes its prey in a single bound." Jaguars are found in Mexico (with occasional sightings in the southwestern United States) across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. The jaguar prefers wet lowland habitats, swampy savannas or tropical rain forests. But, at the northern end of its territory it may enter scrub country and even deserts.

Jaguars are the largest felines in the the western hemisphere and is the third largest feline after the tiger and lion. They are the only roaring cat that occurs in the Americas. Adult males can reach an overall length of more than 7 feet, and can weigh anywhere from 250 to 400 pounds. The jaguar has a larger head, more compact body, and much more powerful paws than the leopard does. The jaguar also has shorter legs and tail than its leaner cousin. The jaguar's hindlimbs are longer than its forelimbs for increased jumping ability. Its forepaws are equipped with long, retractile claws to help grab and hold its prey. The jaguar also has loose belly skin which allows it to be kicked by its prey with little chance of injury.

Like the leopard, the jaguar is a solitary creature. They only meet to mate, and mothers are sometimes seen with their young. But, unlike the leopard, it is mainly terrestrial (living on the ground) even though it's an accomplished tree cimber. Leopards are mainly arboreal (living in trees). Jaguars like their homes to have very soft ground. They use materials such as leaves, rotten trees and other soft materials that they may find in the woods or in the rain forest.

Jaguars typically live 11-12 years in the wild and over 20 years in captivity.

Hunting and Eating

The jaguar is a stalk-and-ambush hunter and opportunistic eater. To hunt, the nocturnal jaguar stays hidden in caves or bushes, stalks close to its prey and ambushes it. When herds of prey stop to eat or drink, it will climb a tree and hide to pounce on its prey. It will seize its prey with its muscular forelegs and bite down to kill it. Jaguars have the strongest jaw in relation to head size of any of the cats for piercing the shells of armoured reptiles and bite through the skull of prey between the ears that delivers a fatal blow to the brain. But, they'll also bite down on the throat and suffocate their prey. The jaguar is also an excellent swimmer. It sometimes wades in water to catch fish and other aquatic creatures. They've also been observed killing and eating large snakes.

The jaguar feeds on a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic animals. It eats more then 80 different species, including cattle and sheep, which is one reason humans kill jaguars. Deer are the jaguar's favorite food. It also eats capybaras and other kinds of rodents, peccaries, birds, fish, iguanas, armadillos, turtles, and crocodiles. In high grass or bushes, jaguars stalk or ambush their prey such as peccaries, capybaras, deer, and tapirs. In the forests, they hide in the trees to spring on birds and monkeys, or capture turtles on the river banks and fish from the water. On the plains, they prey on sheep and cattle.

Vocal Communication

The jaguar is the fiercest of the cat family. Its roar is between a cough and a growl. They also mew and grunt.