STATUS IN THE WILD: Near Threatened
RANGE: Central/South America
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
Jaguars are considered to be the third biggest cat behind the lion and the tiger. Measuring from their tail to the tip of their nose, jaguars can grow to be six feet long and weigh between 100 to 250 pounds, depending on where they live and what they feed on. Jaguars can have spots, called rosettes, or be solid black. The all black jaguars have a genetic mutation called melanism. Many people incorrectly call them panthers. Jaguars are so muscular, they are able to jump long distances forward and vertical, allowing them to avoid predators and catch their prey. Jaguars are also the heaviest cat that can climb well. They have massive heads that house incredibly powerful jaws and sharp teeth. They are able to pierce the skull of an animal in just one bite.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
Jaguars have one of the longest lifespans of any other feline. In the wild, they can live 12 to 15 years. Jaguars are solitary animals. They are typically nocturnal hunters. They live and hunt alone, defining their own territories by marking them with waste and clawing trees. They are avid tree climbers and do not shy away from the water like most big cats.
There is no fixed breeding season; however, once a year, the female jaguar will call to a male. After intercourse the couple separates again. The female will carry her young for 92 to 100 days, find a den, and give birth to usually two to four cubs. The cubs are born with their eyes closed, only weighing about two pounds, and are defenseless. The mother is extremely aggressive defending her young and often limits her territory during this period. After two weeks the cubs’ eyes open. At about two months old, meat is introduced to their diet. By three months, they are completely weaned from breastfeeding. At six months old, they accompany their mother on hunting trips. Around the two-year mark, they are completely left on their own to develop their independent lifestyle. They will reach sexual maturity at about three years old. Throughout her lifetime a female can give birth to between 10 to 12 cubs.
Once found here in the United States (California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Florida), the jaguar was hunted to extinction here in the late 1940s. Today, it is found in Mexico but is swiftly declining, and Central America. The strongest populations are found in the Brazilian state Mato Grosso, Bolivia, Paraguay, Mexico, and the Yucatan Peninsula/northern Guatemala/Belize.
Jaguars are commonly found in rainforests, savannahs, and swamps. Typical habitats have an abundance of foliage that jaguars use to hide themselves while hunting. Occasionally, they have been seen in some desert areas. Jaguars always require a fresh water source. They spend most of their time on the ground but are avid climbers and skilled swimmers.
Jaguars are considered an “apex predator,” which means they are at the top of the food chain. They have been known to basically eat anything with a backbone. Their diet ranges from fish, turtles, and crocodiles to monkeys, sloths, and tapirs. Two of their favorite is the peccary (a type of wild pig) and the capybara (world’s largest rodent).