The jaguar (Panthera onca) (Brazilian Portuguese: onça pintada) is a New World mammal of the Felidae family and one of four “big cats” in the Panthera genus. It is in this genus along with the tiger, lion and leopard of the Old World. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and lion. It is on average the largest and most powerful feline in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar’s present range extends from Mexico (with occasional sightings in the southwestern United States) across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.

The spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically. It has a sturdier build and its behavioral and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. While dense jungle is its preferred habitat, the jaguar will range across a variety of forested and open terrain. It is strongly associated with the presence of water and as a feline enjoys swimming.

The jaguar is a largely solitary, stalk-and-ambush predator, and is opportunistic in prey selection. It plays an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of prey species. The jaguar has developed an exceptionally powerful bite, even relative to the other big cats. This allows it to pierce the shells of armored reptiles and to employ an unusual killing method with mammals. It bites directly through the skull of prey between the ears to deliver a fatal blow to the brain.

Physical characteristics

The jaguar is a compact and well-muscled animal. There are significant variations in size. The weights are normally in the range of 124 to 211 lb (56 to 96 kg). Larger animals have been recorded as weighing 288 to 333 lb (131 to 51 kg, and smaller ones have extremely low weights of 80 lb (36 kg). Females are typically 10″“20% smaller than males. The length of the cat varies from 5.3 to 6 ft (1.62 to 1.83 m), and its tail may add a further 30 in (75 cm) centimeters. They stand about 27 to 30 in (67 to 76 cm) tall at the shoulders.

Social structure

Like most cats, the jaguar is solitary outside mother-cub groups. Adults generally meet only to court and mate and carve out large territories for themselves.

Like the other big cats, the jaguar is capable of roaring (the male more powerfully) and does so to warn territorial and mating competitors away. There have been intensive bouts of counter-calling between individuals in the wild. Their roar often resembles a repetitive cough, and they may also vocalize mews and grunts. Mating fights between males occur, but are rare, and aggression avoidance behavior has been observed in the wild. When it occurs, conflict is typically over territory. A male’s range may encompass that of two or three females, and he will not tolerate intrusions by other adult males.

The jaguar is often described as nocturnal, but is more peak activity around dawn and dusk. Both sexes hunt, but males travel further each day than females. The jaguar may hunt during the day if game is available and is a relatively energetic feline. They spend as much as 50″“60% of its time active. The jaguar’s elusive nature and the inaccessibility of much of its preferred habitat make it a difficult animal to sight, let alone study.

Hunting and diet

Like all cats, the jaguar is an obligate carnivore, feeding only on meat. It is an opportunistic hunter and its diet encompasses 85 species. The jaguar prefers large prey and will take deer, tapirs, peccaries and dogs. They even giant Anacondas and Crocodilian caiman species. The cat will eat any small species that can be caught, including frogs, mice, birds, fish, sloth and domestic livestock.

While the jaguar employs the deep-throat bite-and-suffocation technique, it prefers a killing method unique amongst cats. It pierces directly through the temporal bones of the skull between the ears of prey with its canine teeth, piercing the brain.

The jaguar is a stalk-and-ambush rather than a chase predator. The cat will walk slowly down forest paths, listening for and stalking prey before rushing or ambushing. The jaguar attacks from cover and usually from a target’s blind spot with a quick pounce. Both indigenous people and field researchers consider the species’ ambushing abilities nearly peerless in the animal kingdom. This is probably a product of its role as an apex predator in several different environments. The ambush may include leaping into water after prey and a jaguar is quite capable of carrying a large kill while swimming. Its strength is such that carcasses as large as a heifer can be hauled up a tree to avoid flood levels.

On killing prey, the jaguar will drag the carcass to a thicket or other secluded spot. It begins eating at the neck and chest, rather than the midsection. The heart and lungs are consumed, followed by the shoulders.