The jaguar is the Americas largest cat. It has a compact body, a wide head and powerful jaws. The coat is usually yellow and tan, but colors can range from black to reddish brown. The spots on its coat are more defined and black on its head and neck, becoming larger rosette-shaped patterns on the sides and back.
Jaguars are widely distributed, inhabiting New Mexico and southern Arizona south toward northeastern Brazil and northern Argentina. Populations have been drastically reduced or in some areas and even eliminated, including the United States, El Salvador, and large parts of Mexico. Jaguars like thick, moist tropical lowland forests with plenty of cover, but can be found in reed thickets, scrubland, coastal forests, thickets and swamps. They are superb swimmers and are usually found living near water: rivers, slow moving streams, watercourses, lagoons, and swamps.
Habits and lifestyle
The jaguar is a solitary creature aside from during the first couple of years, spent with their mother. Jaguar males are very territorial, with their home range overlapping that of several females, but being prepared to defend it fiercely from other males. They are dependent on water, particularly during the dry season, seeking relief from the heat. They are very good swimmers and are very fast when moving through the water, especially when pursuing their prey. Near dusk and dawn jaguars are most active, tending to rest during the mid-morning and afternoon. When resting they lie under thick vegetation in deep shade or under large rocks or in caves.
Diet and nutrition
The jaguar's diet mostly consists of medium sized mammals, such as deer, capybara, tapirs and peccaries, which they silently stalk through the thick jungle. In water, jaguars hunt fish, turtles, and even small caiman. The jaguar is an aggressive and formidable hunter and is believed to eat over 80 different animal species.
Jaguars are polygamous. Mating usually increases during December through March. Females are sexually mature between 12 and 24 months, males at 24 to 36 months. Throughout the mating season, females will call loudly to attract males into their territory. Females generally give birth to between 2 to 3 cubs, following a 91 -111-day gestation period. Once the cubs are born, females will not tolerate a male in her territory, being very protective of the cubs. Cubs are weaned at 5 to 6 months old, when they start to hunt alongside their mother. Young are dependent until almost 2 years of age.
Once living throughout South America, jaguars have been hunted mainly for their fur, teeth and paws. Despite legal protection fewer people hunting them for their fur, jaguars are now at risk due to loss of habitat mainly because of deforestation, so they are being pushed into the more remote parts of their native range.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, jaguars number only 15,000 in the wild. The IUCN Red List classifies them as Near Threatened (NT) with decreasing population trend.
Jaguars are top predators and a keystone species due to their impact on populations of other animals who share the same ecosystem.
Fun facts for kids
- The word "jaguar" comes from a Native American word "yajuar”, meaning "he who kills with one leap".
- Jaguars have eyesight that is six times better than that of humans at night and in darker conditions thanks to a layer of tissue at the back of their eyes that reflects light.
- Jaguars that are black with spots are sometimes called panthers. They are actually jaguars.
- Jaguars wave their tails above water to attract fish.
- The jaguar can dive into water to catch prey.
- Jaguars living in forests are smaller and darker and smaller than those in open areas.
- Unlike other felines, the jaguar, when eating prey, starts at the neck and chest.