Jaguar (scientific name: Panthera onca) is a big cat and one of the five species in the Panthera genus (the others are Lion, tiger, leopard, and snow leopard). It is the most feared predator in the Americas. Here are 20 amazing jaguar facts.
Jaguar is the only extant Panthera native to the Americas. The present range extends from the Southwestern United States and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.
Related: Top 5 largest prehistoric cats
Table of Contents
1. Jaguar is the 3rd largest feline
Jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Americas.
Males normally weigh between 56 – 96 kg (123–212 lb). Exceptionally big males have been recorded to weigh as much as 158 kg (348 lb).
The smallest females weigh about 36 kg (79 lb). Females are typically 10-20 percent smaller than males.
The length of Jaguar, from the nose to the base of the tail, varies from 1.12 to 1.85 meters (3.7 to 6.1 feet). The animal stands 63 to 76 cm (25 to 30 in) tall at the shoulders.
Jaguar is a robust, well-muscled, and very strong animal. Their legs are short but thick and powerful.
2. Jaguar is a very powerful and feared predator
Jaguar can hunt wild animals weighing up to 300 kg (660 lb) in dense jungle, and its short and sturdy physique is thus an adaptation to its prey and environment.
They mostly hunt capybara (a mammal native to South America, the largest living rodent in the world) and giant anteater.
They can also hunt wild boar, collared peccary (a pig-like mammal, they are no longer classified in the pig family, though), nine-banded armadillo, white-nosed coati, and even caiman.
3. They are hypercarnivores
Like all cats, jaguars are hypercarnivores, meaning they only eat meat.
4. Jaguars are old cats
They first evolved in Eurasia sometime around three million years ago before spreading both west and east, eventually inhabiting a range from southern England to Nebraska and down into South America.
5. They were hunting megafauna in the prehistoric ages
Their powerful legs, sharp claws, and stocky build are perfect for grappling prey and sever their spines.
This was the most effective method for hunting their giant prehistoric prey.
500,000 years ago, when jaguars first entered the Americas, the continent (both north and south America) was home to megafauna (in terrestrial zoology, megafauna are large or giant animals). Some of the animals, like the giant ground sloth (Megatherium) could be as big as elephants.
Jaguars quickly adapted to their new environment and became specialists in “giant-killing” (hence their stocky build).
This continued until even a more powerful predator shows up: humans. Humans hunted all herbivores larger than 65 kg (143 lbs) and the jaguars had to adapt their new diet. As a consequence of this, they shrunk on size.
During the Pleistocene epoch (1.8 mya–11,000 years ago), now extinct Panthera onca augusta, commonly known as the Pleistocene jaguar or simply the giant jaguar was roaming in North America. It was about 15% larger than modern jaguars.
6. Jaguars like water
Unlike many felids, jaguars are strong swimmers. They often deliberately bathe in ponds, lakes, and rivers. They are even able to carry prey through or capture it in the water. Among the big cats, only the tiger, the biggest cat in the world, shares a similar fondness for water.
7. Jaguars have a very strong bite
The jaguar has the strongest bite of any big cat relative to its size.
But it’s a common misconception that jaguars have the strongest bite force in all felines, including lions and tigers. Recent research by Adam Hartstone-Rose and colleagues at the University of South Carolina, who compared the bite forces of nine different cat species, reveals that jaguars have only three-quarters the bite force of tigers.
However, given that jaguars are considerably smaller than tigers and lions (male tigers weigh between 90-310 kg or 200-680 lbs, while male jaguars weigh between 56-96 kg or 120-210 lbs), their bite is “relatively” stronger.
8. They are solitary animals
Like most cats, the jaguar is a solitary animal outside mother-cub groups. Adults generally meet only to court and mate. Limited non-courting socialization has been observed anecdotally, though.
They carve out large territories for themselves uses scrape marks, urine, and feces to mark.
Female territories range from 25 to 40 km2 (9.65-15.44 sq mi) in area. Territories may overlap, but the animals generally avoid one another.
Male ranges cover roughly twice as much area, varying in size with the availability of game and space, and do not overlap. The territory of a male can contain those of several females.
9. Jaguars can roar
They can roar like the other big cats with the exception of snow leopard.
10. Jaguars cannot purr
Lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars have more flexible hyoid bones that are partly attached to the skull with an elastic ligament, and while these can produce deep and terrifying roars, they cannot produce purrs.
11. Jaguars rarely attack humans
They are exceptionally powerful and fast, but they did not evolve eating large primates. As a result, they don’t normally see humans as food.
Upon catching the scent or sight of a human, overwhelmingly they run as fast as they can or climb a tree to hide rather than fight.
However rarely, they sometimes attack humans. Attacks more frequently occur where humans enter the jaguar habitat and decrease prey. Captive jaguars also sometimes attack zookeepers.
12. Black jaguars exist
These melanistic jaguars are informally known as black panthers, like black leopards. They are not a separate species.
13. They prefer dense rainforests
But, they are also found across other forested areas and open plains.
14. Their lifespan is similar to other big cats
They live 12-15 years in the wild. Captive animals can put up to 23 candles on their cakes.
15. Jaguars can climb trees
Like leopards, they are really good tree-climbers.
16. They do not sleep a lot
Compared to other big cats, of course. They sleep 10.8 hours a day, on average. For a comparison, tigers sleep 15.8 hours a day on average. Source
17. Jaguar cubs born blind
Like all cats. They gain sight after two weeks.
18. Jaguars mate throughout the year
But, births increase when there are plenty of food.
19. “Beast of prey”
The word “jaguar” is thought to derive from the Tupian word yaguara, meaning “beast of prey”. The Tupi or Tupian language family comprises some 70 languages spoken in South America.
20. Jaguar was featured in many cultures’ mythologies
The jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous American cultures, including those of the Maya and Aztec. It was a symbol of power and strength.
Currently, Argentina national rugby union team’s emblem is a jaguar – but they are known as “Los Pumas” (the pumas), due to a historical mistake. According to Wikipedia:
The Pumas nickname is the result of an error made by Carl Kohler, a journalist for the then Die Transvaler newspaper in South Africa, while following the team during their first overseas tour ever – to Southern Africa in 1965. He tried to devise a catchy nickname for the team similar to existing international team nicknames such as All Blacks, Springboks, and Wallabies.
He asked Isak van Heerden, the then coach of the Natal Rugby team who was asked by the SARB to assist with the tour, for ideas. They saw a picture of a type of lion with spots on the UAR crest. Kohler was aware that the Americas had jaguars and pumas, and as he was under pressure to submit his article, he made a guess and called them the Pumas, instead of the actual jaguar.
The mistake stuck and was eventually adopted by the Argentines themselves (although the UAR crest still depicts a jaguar).
Some not amazing jaguar facts
Jaguars also hunt domestic cattle. It is very easy prey for jaguars – big, slow, does not have any weapons… And they are very effective at killing them. Unfortunately, this causes conflict with humans.
As a result, ranchers deliberately kill them, despite hunting jaguars is prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, the United States, and Venezuela.
Habitat loss is another problem that increases jaguar-human conflicts. For example, Brazil has the world’s largest cattle population. Vast expanses of the Amazon rainforest have been cleared to make room for them.
Illegal jaguar skin trade and smuggling also continue to be a problem.
Another problem is, as more and more artificial barriers (roads, fences, etc) are being put up, they’re unable to diversify their populations. As a result, their gene pool is shrinking. Like all animals, jaguars need a large gene pool to maintain a healthy population (thankfully, there are some groups trying to help initiatives like “The path of the Jaguar” aim to connect separate jaguar populations by rebuilding forest paths).
As a result, populations of these amazing animals are rapidly declining. Jaguar is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
Jaguar: the giant slayer
A video titled “Jaguar: the giant slayer” by the Animalogic channel. There’s a mistake in the video, though: as mentioned above, jaguars do not have the strongest bite force in all felines. This is a common misconception.
Jaguar on Wikipedia
“How Jaguars Survived the Ice Age” on the National Geographic website
Can Big Cats Actually Purr? on Science Alert
Argentina national rugby union team on Wikipedia
Jaguar on the National Geographic website
Jaguar facts on the National Geographic Kids website