Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Length: 3.8 to 6 feet (1.1 to 1.8 meters); tail length 18 to 30 inches (45 to 75 centimeters)
Weight: 70 to 249 pounds (31 to 121 kilograms), with males larger than females. Jaguars living in South America’s Pantanal region are much larger than those living in Central America’s rain forests, perhaps due to the abundance of larger prey. The heaviest jaguar on record weighed 347 pounds (157 kilograms).
Life span: 12 to 15 years in the wild, up to 20 years in zoos
Gestation: 3 to 3.5 months
Number of young at birth: 1 to 4, average is 2
Size at birth: 1.5 to 2 pounds (700 to 900 grams)
Age of maturity: 2 to 4 years
Conservation status: endangered
Jaguars are the largest cats in the Western
Hemisphere and the third largest overall. Only lions and
tigers are bigger.
Jaguars are completely at home in the water and are seldom far from a river or lake.
A jaguar may go "fishing" by waving its tail over the water to attract hungry fish.
Ancient peoples honored the jaguar as one of their gods.
The South American native word for jaguar, yaguara, means "animal that kills in a single bound."
- Clouded Leopard
- Fishing Cat
- Lynx & Bobcat
- Mountain Lion (Puma)
- Small Cat
- Snow Leopard
Is that a jaguar Im looking at?
While jaguars and leopards look a lot alike, there are ways to tell them apart. Jaguars are stockier and heavier, with shorter, thicker tails. They have dark spots on their backs, called rosettes, with an irregular broken border and often a spot in the center. Leopards (from Africa and Asia) also have dark rosettes on a tawny coat, but if you look closely at each rosette, youll see that there is no spot inside, and the rosette edge is unbroken.
A roaring good time
There are four big cats in the biological grouping called Panthera: jaguars, lions, tigers, and leopards. These are the only big cats that can roar. They roar to scare off other animals and defend their territory.
Whats a black panther?
Most jaguars have tawny-colored fur with black rosettes, but some have black-on-black, or melanistic, coloration. (Click here to Spot the Cat Coats.) Usually jaguars that are found in darker rain forest areas are black. So, are they black panthers? No, there is no such animal! Panther is just an old general term that comes from the Panthera animal grouping name and is sometimes used to describe leopards, jaguars, and pumas.
Dinner on the run
Jaguars stalk and ambush their ground-dwelling prey at night, instead of chasing it like cheetahs and lions do. They can run pretty quickly, but this is not an important skill for them. Their large jaw muscles allow them to kill their prey by piercing the skull with their sharp teeth. This allows them to eat spectacled caimans and hard-shelled reptiles like turtles and tortoises. Researchers have counted over 85 species in the jaguar diet, including peccaries, deer, tapirs, cattle, and capybaras. At the San Diego Zoo, the large cats are fed carnivore diet, large bones, and an occasional thawed rabbit.
The eyes have it
Like other cats, jaguars have eyes that are adapted for night hunting. One key element is their eyeshine, caused by a mirror-like structure called the tapetum lucidum. The tapetum lucidum in the back of their eye reflects light into the retina, nearly doubling their ability to see. If you have a pet cat or dog, you can see this eyeshine at night. Jaguars see less detail and color in daylight but have better vision at night in low light.
Whats happening to jaguars now?
Jaguars are among the top predators in their habitat, so the adult cats don't have much to fear other than humans. The coats of jaguars have always been important to people who share their habitat. Unfortunately the demand for jaguar skins spread to the outside world. Commercial fur hunting, especially in the 1960s, took a terrible toll on jaguars. CITES outlaws the sale of jaguar skins internationally. Unfortunately, jaguar coats are still illegally bought and sold in countries where jaguars live.
With less and less wild prey available to them, jaguars have started feeding on livestock. Ranchers often respond by trapping and poisoning them. Other threats to jaguars involve deforestation due to logging, mining, and farming, which breaks up their habitat into fragments, leaving less food and fewer mates.
To help jaguars, we first must find out more about where they live, how large their territories are, and how they spend their days and raise their offspring. Researchers are using camera traps, which take a photo when a large animal crosses in front of the camera, and placing radio collars on some jaguars to track their daily movements. And the San Diego Zoo is working with Latin American scientists to study, monitor, and protect jaguars. And we are helping to develop programs to help ranchers avoid problems with the cats.