FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

With a profusion of spots scattered across their robust frames, jaguars weigh in as the largest cat in the Americas and the third-largest in the world, after lions and tigers. Their distinctive spots differ from those of other spotted cats by forming rosettes that enclose one or several dots, each pattern unique like a fingerprint. With an estimated world population of 173,000, jaguars can be found in 19 countries, with habitats that range from the rugged mountains of the southwestern United States, through the swampy savannas or tropical rainforests in Brazil and Belize and to the dry forests in Argentina. Since the early 2000s, the jaguar’s habitat has declined 20%, and threats to the species have intensified. In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, jaguar populations are threatened by killing for trophies and illegal trade in body parts. They also are threatened by killing in retaliation for livestock depredation, whether justified or not, and to reduce perceived competition for wild meat with humans.

Jędrzejewski, W., H.S. Robinson, M. Abarca, K. A. Zeller, G. Velasquez, E. A. D. Paemelaere, J. F. Goldberg, E. Payan, R. Hoogesteijn, E. O. Boede, K. Schmidt, M. Lampo, A. L. Viloria, R. Carreño, N. Robinson, P. M. Lukacs, J. J. Nowak, R. Salom-Pérez, F. Castañeda, V. Boron, and H. Quigley. 2018. Estimating large carnivore populations at global scale based on spatial predictions of density and distribution – Application to the jaguar (Panthera onca). PLoS ONE 13(3): e0194719. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194719.

Quigley, H., Foster, R., Petracca, L., Payan, E., Salom, R. & Harmsen, B. 2017. Panthera onca (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T15953A123791436. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T15953A50658693.en.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

Tewes, M. E., and D. Schmidly. 1987. The neotropical felids: jaguar, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi. Pp. 696-712 in Novak, M., J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch (editors). Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Scientific Name

Panthera onca
Common Name
Jaguar
FWS Category
Mammals
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Genus
Species

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

Jaguars are known from a variety of vegetation communities. At middle latitudes, they show a high affinity for lowland wet communities, including swampy savannas or tropical rain forests, with approximately 57% of the jaguar’s extent of occurrence in the rainforest of the Amazon basin. Jaguars have also been documented in arid areas, including but not limited to thornscrub, desertscrub, chapparal, semidesert grassland, Madrean evergreen woodland, deciduous forest and conifer forest communities of northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States, as well as the Caatinga, Chaco and Cerrado of South America. Jaguars rarely occur above 8,500 feet (2,591 meters).

Boydston, E. E., and C. A. López González. 2005. Sexual differentiation in the distribution potential of northern jaguars (Panthera onca). Pp. 51-56 in Gottfried, G. J., B. S. Gebow, L. G. Eskew, and C. B. Edminster (compilers). Connecting mountain islands and desert seas: biodiversity and management of the Madrean Archipelago II, RMRS-P-36, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Brown, D. E., and C. A. López González. 2001. Borderland jaguars: tigres de la frontera. University of Utah Press. 170 pp.

Culver, M. 2016. Jaguar surveying and monitoring in the United States (ver. 1.1, November 2016): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1095, 228 pp. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161095.

López González, C. A., and D. Brown. 2002. Distribución y estado de conservación actuales del jaguar en el noroeste de Mexico. Pp. 379-391 in Medellín, R. A., C. Equihua, C. L. Chetkiewicz, P. G. Crawshaw, Jr., A. Rabinowitz, K. H. Redford, J. G. Robinson, E. W. Sanderson, and A. Taber (editors). El jaguar en el nuevo milenio. Fondo de Cultura Económica/Universidad Autónoma de México/Wildlife Conservation Society. México. 647 pp.

Quigley, H., Foster, R., Petracca, L., Payan, E., Salom, R. & Harmsen, B. 2017. Panthera onca (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T15953A123791436. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T15953A50658693.en.

Sanderson, E. W., K. H. Redford, C. B. Chetkiewicz, R. A. Medellín, A. R. Rabinowitz, J. G. Robinson, and A. B. Taber. 2002. Planning to save a species: the jaguar as a model. Conservation Biology 16(1):58-72.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

Grassland

Land on which the natural dominant plant forms are grasses and forbs.

Forest

A dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.

Coastal

The land near a shore.

Mountain

A landmass that projects conspicuously above its surroundings and is higher than a hill.

Wetland

Areas such as marshes or swamps that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture.

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Jaguars eat a variety of prey that includes more than 85 species range-wide. Jaguar prey species include peccaries, capybaras, pacas, agoutis, deer, opossum, rabbits, armadillos, caimans, turtles, livestock, as well as various reptiles, birds and fish species. In general, jaguars preferably feed on medium-to-large-sized prey, but can adapt to the fauna in different biomes. In the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, collared peccary and deer are mainstays in the diet of jaguars, though other available prey, including livestock and coatis, are likely taken as well.

Figueroa, O. A. 2013. The ecology and conservation of jaguars (Panthera onca) in central Belize: conservation status, diet, movement patterns and habitat use. PhD dissertation. University of Florida.

Hernández-SaintMartín, A. D., O. C. Rosas-Rosas, L. A. Tarango-Arámbula, F. Clemente Sánchez, J. Palacio-Núñez, and A. Hoogesteijn-Reúl. 2015. Food habits of jaguar and puma in a protected area and adjacent fragmented landscape of northeastern Mexico. Natural Areas Journal 35(2):500-508.

López González, C. A., and B. J. Miller. 2002. Do jaguars (Panthera onca) depend on large prey? Western North American Naturalist 62(2):218-222.

Núñez, R., B. Miller, and F. Lindzey. 2000. Food habits of jaguars and pumas in Jalisco, Mexico. Journal of Zoology 252:373-379.

Rosas-Rosas, O. C. 2006. Ecological status and conservation of jaguars (Panthera onca) in northeastern Sonora, Mexico. PhD dissertation. New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Rosas-Rosas, O. C., L. C. Bender, and R. Valdez. 2008. Jaguar and puma predations on cattle calves in northeastern Sonora, Mexico. Rangeland Ecology and Management 61(5):554-560.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Rule To Extend Endangered Status for the Jaguar in the United States. 62 FR 39147.

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Color & Pattern

Jaguar coats are typically pale yellow, tan or reddish yellow above, and generally whitish on the throat, belly, insides of the limbs and underside of the tail. At all ages, jaguars have spots, with prominent dark rosettes or blotches throughout. Spotting is highly variable and often is different on an animal's right and left sides. Melanistic jaguars, or individuals known as or black jaguars, occur primarily in parts of South America; none exist north of Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Brown, D. E., and C. A. López González. 2001. Borderland jaguars: tigres de la frontera. University of Utah Press. 170 pp.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

 

Size & Shape

Jaguars are the largest cat in the Americas, with a robust head and compact, but muscular body. These cats have short limbs and tails, and powerfully-built chests and forelegs.

Measurements

  • Adult length: 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.4 meters) from nose to tip of the tail
  • Cub length: about 16 inches (40 centimeters) at birth
  • Adult males are typically 10% to 20% larger than adult females

Leopold, A. S. 1959. Wildlife of Mexico. University of California Press, Berkeley. 568 pp.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world. 6th ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

Tewes, M. E., and D. Schmidly. 1987. The neotropical felids: jaguar, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi. Pp. 696-712 in Novak, M., J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch (editors). Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Weight

Adult jaguars weigh between 80 to 348 pounds (36 to 158 kilograms), although the end weights of this range are exceptional. There is regional variation in jaguar size across the species range. In Mexico, males weigh approximately 140 to 250 pounds (63 to 113 kilograms), and females approximately 100 to 180 pounds (45 to 82 kilograms). In Venezuela, males weigh on average 209 pounds (95 kilograms) and females weigh 124 pounds (56.3 kilograms). In Brazil, males weigh on average 209 pounds (94.8 kilograms) and females 171 pounds (77.7 kilograms).

Leopold, A. S. 1959. Wildlife of Mexico. University of California Press, Berkeley. 568 pp.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world. 6th ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

Tewes, M. E., and D. Schmidly. 1987. The neotropical felids: jaguar, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi. Pp. 696-712 in Novak, M., J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch (editors). Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sound

Along with the other big cats of the genus Pantheraexcept the snow leopard, jaguars can roar because of the vocal folds of the larynx. These form the basic structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish…

Learn more about structure
of a sound generator that is well-designed to produce high acoustic energy. They are the only roaring cat in the Americas and differ from other wild cats like the mountain lion and bobcat, which can purr, growl or scream. but do not possess a larynx designed for roaring.

Hast, M. H. 1989. The larynx of roaring and non-roaring cats. Journal of Anatomy 163:117-121.

Tewes, M. E., and D. Schmidly. 1987. The neotropical felids: jaguar, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi. Pp. 696-712 in Novak, M., J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch (editors). Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

Jaguars are primarily nocturnal, although they can be irregularly active at any time of night or day according to prevailing circumstances. Factors like temperature, prey and human activity may contribute to their movement patterns. Research shows that jaguars avoid areas of human activity. Like other large cats, when hunting, jaguars rely on a combination of cover, surprise, acceleration and body weight to capture their prey.

Cavalcanti, S. M. C. 2008. Predator-prey relationships and spatial ecology of jaguars in the southern Pantanal, Brazil: implications for conservation and management. PhD dissertation. Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

Hernández-SaintMartín, A. D., O. C. Rosas-Rosas, L. A. Tarango-Arámbula, F. Clemente-Sánchez, J. Palacio-Núñez, and A. Hoogesteijn-Reúl. 2013. Activity patterns of jaguar, puma and their potential prey in San Luis Potosí, México. Acta Zoológica Mexicana 29(3):520-533.

Núñez Pérez, R. 2014. Efecto de la actividad antropogénica en la abundancia y comportamiento del jaguar (Panthera onca, Linnaeus 1758) en la costa de Jalisco, México. Doctoral Thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F. 179 pp.

Rabinowitz, A. R., and B. G. Nottingham, Jr. 1986. Ecology and behaviour of the jaguar (Panthera onca) in Belize, Central America. Journal of Zoology 210:149-159.

Characteristic category

Lifecycle

Characteristics
Reproduction

Jaguars may breed year-round rangewide, but tend to breed seasonally at the southern and northern ends of their range. On average, gestation is 101 days, with cubs being born in a sheltered place. Litters range from one to four, but usually consist of two cubs. Offspring remain with their mother for one and a half to two years. Female jaguars reach sexual maturity between 2 and 3 years of age, while male jaguars reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years. In the wild, the maximum age of last reproduction of a female is recorded at 13 years.

Brown, D. E., and C. A. López González. 2001. Borderland jaguars: tigres de la frontera. University of Utah Press. 170 pp.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

Lifecycle

Jaguars are solitary and territorial by nature, although individual territories may overlap, particularly between males and females. Jaguars may breed year-round rangewide, but tend to breed seasonally at the southern and northern ends of their range. After birth, young jaguars begin walking at about 18 days and start following their mother at around six weeks. By 15 to 18 months, jaguars can travel and hunt independently within their mother’s range and are usually independent by 24 months of age. Males appear to disperse farther than females when looking for new territories.

Cavalcanti, S. M. C. 2008. Predator-prey relationships and spatial ecology of jaguars in the southern Pantanal, Brazil: implications for conservation and management. PhD dissertation. Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

Quigley, H., Foster, R., Petracca, L., Payan, E., Salom, R. & Harmsen, B. 2017. Panthera onca (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T15953A123791436. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T15953A50658693.en.

Rabinowitz, A. R., and B. G. Nottingham, Jr. 1986. Ecology and behaviour of the jaguar (Panthera onca) in Belize, Central America. Journal of Zoology 210:149-159.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

Lifespan

Few wild jaguars have been documented to live longer than 11 years. A wild male jaguar in Arizona was documented to be at least 15 years of age. In Jalisco, two wild females were documented to be at least 12 and 13. Based on this information, the life span of the jaguar in the wild is estimated to be approximately 10 to 15 years.

Johnson, T. B., W. E. Van Pelt, and J. N. Stuart. 2011. Jaguar conservation assessment for Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Mexico. Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix. 81 pp.

Núñez-Pérez, R. Personal communication 2011. Email to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, August 2, 2011.

Seymour, K. L. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species 340:1-9.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2018. Jaguar Recovery Plan (Panthera onca). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Geography

Characteristics
Range

Historically, the jaguar inhabited 21 countries throughout the Americas, from the United States south into Argentina. Currently, jaguars are found in 19 countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, United States and Venezuela. The species is believed to be extirpated from El Salvador and Uruguay.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2018. Jaguar Recovery Plan (Panthera onca). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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