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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Land on which the natural dominant plant forms are grasses and forbs.
A dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.
The land near a shore.
A landmass that projects conspicuously above its surroundings and is higher than a hill.
Areas such as marshes or swamps that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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).
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.
Along with the other big cats of the genus Panthera, except the snow leopard, jaguars can roar because of the vocal folds of the larynx. These form the basicof 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.
Explore the information available for this taxon's timeline. You can select an event on the timeline to view more information, or cycle through the content available in the carousel below.20 Items