6 Facts You Didn’t Know About Jaguars

‘He who kills with one leap” – the meaning of the Native American name for jaguars (‘yaguar’) already serves as a pretty good introduction to the world’s third largest wild cat. Jaguars are capable of tackling the biggest predators of their home range in South America.

Did you know that the ‘Panthera onca’ was originally home to the southwest US all the way to northern Argentina? However, today’s jaguar population has drastically decreased by 40%, mainly due to deforestation. Most of the remaining population nowadays is based near the Amazon River basin in South America. But that’s not all! Read our facts about jaguars below to learn more about these spotty predators.

1. They’re excellent swimmers

It’s common knowledge that cats usually avoid water as best they can. This does not apply to jaguars! The patterned wild cats are actually excellent swimmers and always stay close to water bodies such as rivers and lakes. Jaguars have successfully adapated to wet environments and have no problem with crossing large rivers, which definitely serves as an advantage when hunting prey.

2. Don’t mess with them – Jaguars have the strongest bite of all wild cats

Talking about hunting prey, jaguars are opportunistic hunters – and not picky ones either! Their meal plan is extensive, and on the list are all kinds of prey they come across ranging from capybaras and monkeys to tortoises and caimans. Even the tapir, South America’s largest animal, is not safe from these both diurnal and nocturnal hunters! In fact, jaguars have the strongest jaw of all big cats. Their powerful teeth enable them to take down massive prey with a bite straight through the skull. While jaguars mostly hunt on the ground, they can also climb trees and were seen jumping on their prey!

3. 101 – How to tell jaguars and leopards apart

Jaguar or leopard? People commonly have trouble distinguishing between these two rather similar wild cats. However, the differences are easy to name, the main one being their circular markings. Jaguars have black spots in most of the fragmented rosettes covering their strong bodies, whereas leopards don’t. On top of that, jaguars have a stockier build with bigger heads and shorter legs than leopards.

If you’re still unsure if you’re encountering a leopard or a jaguar, check which continent you’re on! While jaguars are based in South America, wild leopards can only be found in Africa and Asia.

4. Saw or jaguar?

Thanks to an elastic ligament behind their nose and mouth, jaguars don’t purr like domestic cats but are actually able to roar. Both males and females roar (even though the males’ roar is usually louder), which helps to bring them together during mating season. The jaguar’s typical call is also often referred to as ‘saw’ since it sounds like someone sawing a piece of wood in one direction only.

5. The black sheep of the Amazon

Did you know there are black jaguars? About 10% of the jaguar’s population has a melanistic coat with nearly invisible black spots due to a single dominant allele in the jaguar’s evolution. These plack jaguars mainly appear in Costa Rica. While scientists are still not too sure about the reason behind it, they assume this mutation happened due to camouflage advantages.

6. Conversation status: Near threatened

As mentioned earlier, the jaguars have dramatically declined in population, especially in recent years as a result of deforestation for cattle ranching and logging. By now, the conversation status of the big cats is near threatened as half of them have been eliminated from their historic territory. Since 2016, jaguars are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Deforestation, poaching, and loss of wild prey are the major human-caused threats for jaguars, resulting in drastically shrinking territories. According to WWF, this has led to the little remaining global population of estimated 173.000 jaguars.

Jaguar in a river in the jungle in Brazil, South America
The elegant jaguar in the jungle in Brazil. Photo credit: shutterstock

With this even share of fun and serious facts about jaguars, we hope to have contributed to your daily dose of new knowledge. If you are interested in learning more about South America’s wildlife, check out our website.

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Author: Bente Bruhnken