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The Jaguar - America's Big Cat

Updated on October 15, 2017

Contrary to popular belief or opinion, the mountain lion is not the biggest cat afoot in North America. The mountain lion is a clear second in the big cat game here. Though the mountain lions or cougars are wide spread, their much larger and more powerful distant kin, the Jaguar - is perhaps still present in the United States of America, not only in zoos, but in the wild.

The Jaguar is the third largest of all cats - the tiger and the African Lion are bigger - but nothing in the cat family is stronger, pound for pound, than the jaguar. Only the jaguar is capable of killing something the size of a deer - and then climbing a tree with the prey in it's mouth - to eat it there. Deer typically weigh more than a jaguar, but that's never been an issue or a problem for America's big cat. I'll repeat that just for clarity's sake - the jaguar can kill something that weighs much more than it does, and then climb a tree with that thing in it's mouth to eat it there.

The Jaguar - Panthera onca

The Jaguar's Habitat - Range

Though the jaguar is most fond of thick forests, it's range used to extend from the Southern United States, all of Mexico; and down into South America as far South as Argentina. There could possibly still be jaguars afoot in the wild in the USA, with possible breeding pairs Southeast of Tucson, in Arizona. America's big cat has been rumored to have been spotted in Texas, but nothing has been confirmed in the Lone Star State.

I live very near to the King's Creek in Kaufman County, Texas - and here some land owners very near to my house are beyond certain that a big cat lives here among us. Though one has never been seen - it's a bit frightening for a guy who rides his mountain bicycle all over, and often at night.

Though no scientist has officially documented a jaguar in Texas in many years - the following quote seems to be from someone who well knows the differences between a jaguar and a mountain lion:

A few years ago my uncle and I had a 25,000 ac.hunting lease on the Rio Grande river near Laredo, Texas We observed a large Jaguar on the Texas side of the river ,heard its distinctive grunts, and found its tracks.
In addition we saw a Mountain Lion and found its tracks.
There is such a large differnce between the two animals, that mistaken identity is impossible.

The jaguar may be black in color


The jaguar is both an apex predator and a keystone species

The jaguar is an apex predator, which means that it is the absolute top of the food chain wherever it is living. It has no predators outside of foolish men. Nothing eats a jaguar. The jaguar is also a keystone species, as the keystone is to an arch, so is the jaguar to it's ecosystem - neither can stand without the keystone. Without the jaguar regulating the numbers of the species that it hunts - those species numbers get out of control.

Jaguars are very fond of water, and will generally stay close to it. Jaguars, like tigers, swim for pleasure.

The jaguar is an ambush predator and has an unusually strong bite, even for big cats. The jaguar's powerful jaws allow it to literally crunch through the skulls of the animals that it hunts - killing them by piercing their very brains. The bite of the jaguar is approximately twice as powerful as the much larger African Lion's. The two thousand pounds of force exerted by the jaguar's jaws is only outdone pound for pound by the spotted hyena's jaws.

Jaguars are especially fond of eating deer, peccary, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys, deer, sloths, tapirs, turtles, eggs, frogs, fish and anything else it can catch - which could well include, well, you - should you be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While jaguars are mostly ground level hunters - they can, do, and will at times climb trees and leap from them onto their prey. It's good to be on the lookout for such things should you be in known jaguar territory.

Exclusively a carnivorous animal - feeding a jaguar vegan food or soy "meat" in captivity is tantamount to animal abuse.

A Jaguar Resting In A Tree

The Jaguar and The Leopard

Jaguars are very similar in size and appearance to leopards. Jaguars, however, are typically a bit larger. Male jaguars regularly weigh two hundred pounds, and while a male leopard may weigh as much - it's uncommon.

Jaguars are the third largest of the big cats, and leopards are universally recognized as the fourth largest of the big cats. While jaguars are exclusive to the Americas - leopards are exclusive to the old world - and are found in China, India, the Middle East, and Africa.

From the picture below you can see how the leopard has black spots, but if you look at the pictures of jaguars, they have black circular or oval designs with yellowish orange fur in the centers.

A leopard

Size, lifespan, and mating behaviors of jaguars

Jaguars stand from two and a quarter to two and one half foot high, and stretch from five and one half feet to eight feet in length from nose to end of tail. A jaguar may weigh anywhere between one hundred to two hundred and fifty pounds normally, but males weighing in at as much as three hundred and fifty pounds have been recorded. Obviously, these sizes, weights, and measures are for female jaguars on the smaller end, and males on the larger end. Jaguars typically live fifteen to twenty years. Twenty three years is the longest a jaguar has lived in captivity - making it one of the longest lived cats.

Female jaguars reach maturity at around two years of age, but males don't reach maturity until between three and four years of age. Jaguars have no mating season, they're fine with going at it year round. Mating does increase in frequency during times of plentiful prey. Jaguar mating pairs separate after the act, and the female Jaguar provides all of the parenting. Two to four cubs are typically born, and a female jaguar will absolutely not tolerate the presence of a male jaguar in the presence of her cubs.

Jaguar cubs are born blind, but gain their sight after two weeks time. They are weaned off of their mother's milk at three months, but will stay in their dens until six months of age; then they'll accompany their mothers on hunts. At around one to two years a jaguar cub will leave it's mother and establish it's own territory.

Jaguars are entirely solitary outside of mating and mother and cub relationships. Their respective territories do not overlap. Jaguars do, in fact, roar - just like you'd expect such a large cat to do, and these roars are meant as warnings to other jaguars that might have come into their territory.

Saving the Argentine Jaguar

The Jaguar and the Mountain Lion

While lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars all have common ancestors in the distant past - the cougar or mountain lion is scarcely related to any of the other big cats. The truth of the matter is that the cougar or mountain lion is more closely related to your own house cat than it is to the jaguar.

The jaguar does, however, share a common ancestor with the extinct American Lion, and is also related to the extinct European Jaguar, of course.

The Cougar or Mountain Lion

Jaguars and Livestock

One thing that has been noted is that the further North a jaguar lives, the larger that jaguar tends to be. The reason for this is that large herbivorous prey such as sheep or cattle are not common in rain forests. As stated before, a jaguar will only eat meat - and to suggest that it should ever eat anything else is to abuse this animal. Quite naturally, jaguars in Arizona are much larger than jaguars in South America - and also quite naturally, the jaguar is very rare in Arizona due to the human factor, and cattle ranching. Though the jaguar can and will eat things as small as frogs or turtles - it will also take down and eat adult cattle or horses, or even the family dog.

One shouldn't then be surprised that a jaguar could, in fact, not stop with the family dog, but be pleased to kill and eat an actual family member. The fact of the matter, however, is that instances of jaguars attacking humans are extremely rare. Every known case of a jaguar attacking a human has been in the instance of a specimen with damaged teeth, or of an individual of great age and poor physical ability. In captivity, only jaguars that felt scared or threatened have lashed out at human keepers. Yes, jaguar emotions can, in fact, be detected through behavior.

The jaguar is pound for pound the strongest of all cats, and its jaws are also the strongest among cats

Jaguars In Culture

In the days before wealthy financiers had Columbus seeking for persons to exploit in far flung places, the jaguar was a symbol of power to the Natives of Central and South America. The Andeans of Peru had an entire jaguar cult. The Mayans believed that the jaguar facilitated communication between the living and the dead, and saw jaguars as their companions in the spirit world. The Aztecs of Mexico, of course, agreed to all ideas of the jaguar as a symbol of power, and had their own jaguar knight warriors; but to the Aztecs, jaguars were more than that - they were deity, Tezcatilpoca.

Today, Jaguars area near threatened species, which basically means that it's numbers are in decline. In Brazil they plan to flood more and more forests for hydro electric power that is actually damaging to the environment due to greenhouse gasses, mainly methane, produced by rotting vegetation. Besides all of that, the Belo Monte dam, should it be built, would be a human crime against the Natives of Brazil, and of course, the jaguar.

Panthera onca


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