Jaguar – Panthera onca
The jaguar is a member of the genus Panthera, just like tigers, lions, and leopards. Jaguars, like leopards, may be spotted or melanistic (black), although the spots in both are still evident in daylight. Many confuse the two species, but there are important differences. Jaguars, the third biggest cat in the world, are stocky, have large heads with powerful jaws, and have rosettes, which are spots within spots. They are excellent swimmers and good climbers and often catch their prey in the water. Leopards are generally smaller, sleeker, and their rosettes don’t have spots within the outer spot. They are excellent climbers. Additionally, leopards only exist in Africa and Asia. One interesting note is there is belief that there are no jaguar subspecies, unlike many other cat species.
The jaguar’s range extends from northern Mexico to northern Argentina, though an occasional male is spotted in southern Arizona and New Mexico that migrated from northern Mexico. The last known jaguar in Texas was killed in the 1940s. They exist in 18 countries.
They are between 5 – 6 feet in length and weigh between 80 pounds to more than 300 pounds. The largest jaguars inhabit the Pantanal of South America. They also have a very diverse diet and, depending upon habitat, consume capybaras, peccaries, caiman, turtles, cattle, and deer, among other prey.
Jaguars, like other wild felines, face several threats to their survival: loss or fragmentation of habitat, retaliatory killing by ranchers, and loss of prey species. On a brighter note, however, the chance for their long-term survival is likely greater than that of Old World cats because human encroachment is not as pronounced in the Western Hemisphere as it is in the Eastern Hemisphere, and efforts are well underway to provide natural corridors for these amazing animals throughout their range to allow them access to other jaguars, prey, and habitat.
Key points about jaguars
- Largest cat in the Americas and only true “big cat”
- Closely related to tigers and other old-world big cats
- Only cat that regularly kills its prey by crushing the skull
- Conservation status: Endangered in the US; Near Threatened elsewhere
- Texas and southwestern US are northernmost part of its range