Native to the Americas, jaguars are big cats that belong to the genus Panthera in the family Felidae (family of cats). Though not a scientific classification, the term 'big cats' is used to denote larger felines, as compared to smaller ones. Usually, the members of the genus Panthera are referred to as big cats. They are tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard. Sometimes, cougar, cheetah, snow leopard, and clouded leopard are also included in this group.
The Feline Family
Tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards are the largest felines. While the tiger is the largest big cat, lions are the second largest, followed by jaguars and leopards. In short, the jaguar is the third largest big cat in the world. Unlike other felines, those in genus Panthera have the ability to roar. So Jaguars can roar, though their roars are like a repetitive cough.
There is only a single species of jaguar in the world and that is Panthera onca. According to fossil evidence, two more species of jaguars existed on the Earth, thousands of years ago. The extinct jaguar species are the European jaguar (Panthera gombaszoegensis) and the American lion (Panthera atrox). Even the extant (living) species are facing extinction and is classified as 'near threatened' by the IUCN.
The Leaping Jaguar
When it comes to hood ornaments, the leaping jaguar (of Jaguar cars) is very popular. During the 1930s, the manufacturers were searching for a unique name for their new line of cars. They were looking for the name of an animal that is sleek as well as fast and jaguars fit the bill perfectly. A leaping jaguar is the mascot of this luxury car brand. This hood ornament may not be seen in the new models.
This animal in the image is usually identified as 'black panther'. However, they do not comprise a separate species and are actually melanistic variants of Panthera species such as jaguars and leopards. Though they appear black, a close examination will reveal the rosette pattern on their coat. According to statistical studies, black panthers amount to six percent of the total jaguar population. Albino jaguars are very rare.
Jaguar - Physical Features
The jaguar is a big cat with a compact and strong muscular body. This feline has a large head, broad muzzle, and powerful jaws. A full-grown jaguar may weigh up to 150 kilograms and attain a height of around 67 to 76 centimeters (shoulder height). The length of a jaguar can range between 1.62 to 1.83 meters with an extra tail length of around 30 inches. The short and stocky limbs facilitate the animal to climb, swim and crawl. Jaguars living in rainforests can be smaller and darker than those living in open areas.
The most striking feature of jaguars is their spotty coat. Generally, they have a base coat of tawny yellow color, but in some jaguars the color may range from reddish-brown to black. They have black rosettes (serve the purpose of camouflage) on the base coat. These rosettes may be like single rings or formed of several spots. The shape of the spots varies from one rosette to another and from one jaguar to another. The rosettes may have inner spots or small lines. The spots on the head and neck are solid and those on the tail merge to form rings. Some parts of the body, like the throat, underbelly and outer surface of the legs, can be of a lighter shade or whitish. Some jaguars have a black coat, due to a condition called melanism. Such jaguars are called black panthers. Even albino jaguars are sparingly found and are called white panthers.
Their jaws are extremely powerful and the same power applies to their bites as well. It is said that jaguars are twice as strong as lions, in terms of their bite. Among all felines, jaguars have the strongest bite. They can easily bite through turtle shells and the skulls of other animals. Their jaw structure is so strong that a single jaguar can drag a heavy animal (with more than 300 kilograms body weight), with its jaws, to a distance of around 25 to 30 feet.
Habitat and Range
Jaguars are mostly found in the rainforests of South and Central America. They are also found in swamps, deserts and dry grassland terrain. The most preferred habitat is dense forest. They are often found near sources of water and tend to make dens in caves. Jaguars are rarely seen in mountainous regions and at elevations of more than 4000 meters. They are mainly found in Mexico, Guatemala, Guyana, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela and certain parts of the United States, like Texas and Arizona.
Difference Between Jaguar and Leopard
Both jaguars and leopards look similar and so, distinguishing them may get difficult. As compared to leopards, jaguars are heavier and sturdier with a rounder head, shorter tail and stocky limbs. Another feature that is helpful in distinguishing these two species is the pattern of their rosettes. Jaguars have fewer rosettes, which are larger and darker with spots or lines inside.
A Solitary Life
Jaguars are solitary animals with distinct territories. The only exception is the group of mother and cubs. Individual territories of male jaguars are much larger than those of females and do not overlap at all. These animals are found to mark their area with urine, faeces or claw marks on tree trunks. Jaguars roar to ward off other jaguars from their territories.
Adults meet each other only during mating, which is a brief affair. Female jaguars reach sexual maturity at the age of two, whereas in males it is three to four years. There is no particular season for mating. They mate throughout the year and the pair separates after mating.
The gestation period is around 93 to 105 days and the litter consists of two to four cubs. The young ones are taken care of by the mother only. Though they are weaned within three months of birth, the young ones accompany their mother for around two years, before establishing their own territory.
Jaguars are also highly skilled in climbing trees. This arboreal nature helps them in hunting and feeding. They are found to hide in between the tree branches and pounce on the prey. These animals may also find their prey (like monkeys and birds) on trees. They may climb trees with their prey, in case the water levels rise on the ground
Jaguars are meat-eaters and are considered as apex predators. They prefer animals like dogs, deer, foxes, etc. as their prey. Sometimes they attack and kill anaconda too.
They hunt for prey in the dark, especially during dawn and dusk, and may bury their prey for later use. The hunting technique of jaguars is somewhat similar to that of other members of the Panthera family. They bite through the skull (between the ears) of the prey and pierce the brain. Such bites make the prey almost immobile. This method is usually employed while attacking mammals. Another method is to pounce on the prey in a single leap and suffocate the prey with a deadly bite on the throat.
Did You Know ?
The name jaguar is derived from the South American Indian word, 'yaguara,' meaning, 'a beast that kills its prey with one bound.'
Jaguars are also good swimmers. These animals are very fond of water and are often found to live near water sources. Their territory may include swamps and forest lands that are flooded seasonally. Water sources provide them with prey like fish, caimans, and turtles. They can also catch and/or carry large prey while swimming. Jaguars are said to be the most water-loving felines.
Jaguars have a very long association with the mythology and culture of Americas. During ancient times, this animal was a symbol of power and strength. While the Mayan rulers had names associated with jaguars, the elite members of the Aztec military were referred to as jaguar warriors. These warriors had an attire made of jaguar skin.
This picture shows the Temple of the Great Jaguar, which is otherwise known as Tikal Temple I. The temple is located in Tikal, in the northern region of Guatemala. The city was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of ancient Mayan civilization. This is supposed to be a funeral temple with a lintel that depicts the king on a jaguar throne.
Jaguar an Extant Species
Jaguars are classified as 'Near Threatened' by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). In other words, this species may get extinct in the near future, if proper and timely measures are not taken. Habitat loss, poaching, etc. are mainly responsible for the dwindling population of these animals. According to estimates, there are around 15,000 jaguars left in the world, as of now.
This is only a brief overview about the amazing animal called jaguar. Though they are strong and powerful, jaguars are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss and poaching are found to be the major reasons for their dwindling population. Conservation efforts are still underway.