Jaguar and Puma
This online review is updated and revised continuously, as soon as results of
new scientific research become available. It therefore presents
state-of-the-art information on the topic it covers.
two species of big cats live in the New World: the jaguar (Panthera onca)
and the puma (Puma concolor). Both species occur together in
tropical forests and savannas.
When two or more species live in the same area, ecologists
say they are sympatric. In this article, we compare the habits of
sympatric jaguar and puma, and examine the many important ways that they differ
from each other.
in Studying Sympatric Jaguar and Puma
we begin our review and synthesis of the literature, however, we should take a
moment to consider the many problems that researchers face when attempting to
study sympatric jaguar and puma. Because both cats range over large
territories, any researcher confining his or her study to one locality will
probably encounter only a few individuals of each cat species. This is not
good because it is difficult to draw general conclusions from such a small
number of individuals. Yet, in most cases, the researcher has not been
given adequate funding to allow sampling in other localities.
problem is that most of the animals eaten by jaguar and puma are also hunted by
humans. In many areas, overhunting and poaching by humans has reduced
these prey populations to very low numbers. In such localities, jaguar and
puma may not be able to specialize on different foods, because overall prey
abundance is so low that they must hunt any animal they can find (including
domestic livestock). Furthermore, jaguar and puma are themselves
extensively and illegally hunted by humans in some areas. When this
happens, the populations of these big cats can become so low in relation to the
food supply, that they do not compete with each other, and therefore might not
differ as much in their food habits as under natural conditions.
best places to study sympatric jaguar and puma are in wilderness areas where
neither of these big cats, nor the animals they prey upon, have been reduced in
numbers by hunting, poaching or trapping. Unfortunately, such areas are increasingly
difficult to find in our modern world.
General Food Habits
The major prey of both
jaguar and puma
are mammals, and a diverse number of mammal species are eaten by both cats
(Emmons 1987; Aranda & Sanchez Cordero 1996; Chinchilla 1997; Taber et al.
1997; Farrell et al. 2000; Núñez et al. 2000). However, while the two cats
often eat the same species of prey, some animals are
eaten more frequently by puma and some more frequently by jaguar. In
addition, the two cats prefer different-sized prey. We will now look at
these differences in detail.
Differences in Body Size
and Prey Size
The jaguar is the largest
cat in the Western Hemisphere and can subdue larger prey than can the
puma. The puma, however, has a greater geographic distribution than
the jaguar, ranging from Alaska and Northern Canada to the southmost tip of South America. Iriarte
et al. (1990) compared the ratio of head length to body length of puma across
its entire geographic distribution, and found that the puma's body size becomes
smaller in areas where it is sympatric with jaguar. This decrease in puma
body size is also correlated with a decrease in the body size of its prey.
with jaguar, the
puma generally takes more medium-sized and smaller prey, while
the jaguar shows a preference for larger prey (Taber et al. 1997; Maxit 2001; Polisar et al. 2003).
For example, on the llanos of Venezuela, Scognamillo
et al. (2003) found that jaguar selected mainly large prey (greater than 15
kilograms), while puma selected mainly medium-sized prey (1-15 kilograms).
Predation on Tapir
The three species of New World tapirs (Tapiridae) are the largest native
land mammals of the Neotropics and the last surviving elements of the
Pleistocene megafauna of Central and South America (Fragoso and Huffman
2000). Jaguar prey more frequently on tapir than do puma. (Roth
1941; Schaller 1983; Mondolfi & Hoogestijn 1986;
Crawshaw & Quigley 1984; Taber et al. 1997).
One possible explanation is that jaguar, being larger than puma, are better able
to subdue larger prey than puma. Another possible explanation is that
jaguar encounter tapir more often than puma because both jaguar and tapir use
waterside habitats more frequently than puma (see below; Bodmer 1991; Salas
Predation on Deer
Deer are preyed
upon more frequently by puma than by jaguar
(Aranda & Sanchez Cordero 1996; Chinchilla 1997, Maxit 2001;
Scognamillo et al. 2003).
For example, on
the llanos of Venezuela, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
constituted 21% of the biomass consumed by puma, but only 7% of the biomass
consumed by jaguar
et al. 2003). While these results could indicate that the puma is a more
efficient deer killer, another possible explanation is that puma encounter
white-tailed deer more often than jaguar, because these deer use open habitats
that are less frequently visited by jaguar (Scognamillo et al. 2003).
areas of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala, remains of white-tailed deer
were found 3 times more frequently in puma scats than in jaguar scats, and
remains of brocket deer (Mazama species) were found 6 times more
frequently in puma scats than in jaguar scats (Novack et al. 2005).
Predation on Peccaries
Peccaries are preyed upon more frequently by jaguar than by puma (Aranda &
Sanchez Cordero 1996; Chinchilla 1997; Maxit 2001; Scognamillo
et al. 2003; Novack et al. 2005).
On the llanos of Venezuela, Scognamillo et al. (2003) found that while jaguar
took adult collared peccaries (Tayassu tajacu)
more frequently than did puma, puma took juvenile collared peccaries more
frequently than did jaguar.
Predation on Armored Reptiles
Large armored reptiles make up a significant portion of the jaguar's diet, but
usually only an insignificant part of the puma's diet (Guggisberg 1975; Mondolfi
& Hoogestijn 1986; Emmons 1987,1989; Carrillo et al. 1994;
et al. 2003). Large armored reptiles include
caimans, crocodiles, turtles and tortoises.
Armored reptiles are relatively
scarce today, but were more abundant in the past, before they were ruthlessly
overhunted by humans. The jaguar's habit of feeding extensively on these
unique prey is related to its own unique anatomy.
For example, the jaguar's unusually
large head (compared to other big cats) and powerful canine teeth are
marvelously adapted for crushing the hard shells of turtles and tortoises, and
breaking through the extremely hard integuments of caimans and crocodiles (Biknevicius
and Van Valkenburgh 1996). In contrast, the puma has a relatively small
head, with relatively thin canine teeth (Emmons 1987,1989).
Emmons (1989) estimates that a
single large tortoise can satisfy the jaguar's daily food requirement of 1.4
kilograms of meat.
the llanos of Venezuela, both jaguar and puma preyed upon spectacled caimans (Caiman
crocodilus) that weighed less than 15 kilograms, but only the jaguar preyed
upon spectacled caimans that weighed greater than 15 kilograms (Scognamillo et
Predation on Armored Mammals
The jaguar also specializes in eating armored
mammals. For example, in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala, the
remains of nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) were found 6
times more frequently in jaguar scats than in puma scats (Novack et al. 2005).
Predation on Monkeys
In the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala, remains
of spider monkeys (Ateles geoffryii) and howler monkeys (Alouatta
pigra) were found over seven times more frequently in puma scats than in jaguar
scats (Novack et al. 2005). In Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica,
Chinchilla (1997) also found that the remains of monkeys were more frequent in
puma scats than in jaguar scats.
Jaguar use habitats near water more frequently than do puma. For example,
Emmons (1987) compared use of habitats by jaguar and puma along a tributary of
the Amazon river in eastern Peru, and found jaguar using waterside habitats more
often than puma. In the rainforest away from the river, Emmons found
jaguar tracks on 35 days and puma tracks on 32 days, suggesting equal use of
this habitat by the 2 cats. However, along the margins of lakes and
rivers, Emmons found jaguar tracks on 39 days and puma tracks on only 5 days.
In addition, she reported that the puma was seen only once in the open along the
river sunning on a log, while jaguar were often seen resting, sunning or walking
along the beaches of rivers and lakes, and their tracks could be followed for
thousands of meters along the exposed beaches and mud banks there during the dry
Thus, the jaguar's ability to
exploit the once-abundant reptile resources of the tropics (see above) is
correlated with its more frequent use of habitats near water (Emmons 1987,1989).
Observations of other researchers are consistent with Emmons' conclusions.
For example, in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Schaller and Crawshaw (1980)
report that puma are generally most abundant in dry vegetation types, while
jaguar are more abundant in moist vegetation types.
large forest patches greater than 300 hectares in area on the Venezuelan llanos,
both jaguar and puma usually occur within 500 meters of the forest edge (Scognamillo
et al. 2003). However, the jaguar is twice as likely as the puma to be
found deeper in the forest (i.e. more than 500 meters from the forest edge).
On the Venezuelan llanos, jaguar and puma show
significant differences in activity patterns. Both cats are more active
(i.e. move around more) at night than during daytime. However, in the
rainy season, jaguar are more active than puma during daytime, while puma are
more active than jaguar at night (Scognamillo et al. 2003).
During the dry season, puma are more active than jaguar during both night and
daytime (Scognamillo et al. 2003).
One explanation given for the greater movement of
puma at night is that puma hunt smaller, less detectable prey than jaguar, and
so must devote more time searching for them (Scognamillo et al.
Predation on Mesocarnivores
Like other large mammalian
carnivores, the jaguar and puma prey upon smaller-sized carnivores (Palomares &
Caro 1999). For example, in one Mexican study, the second most frequent
prey found in the scats of both jaguar and puma was the
white-nosed coati (Nasua nasua) (Aranda & Sanchez-Cordero 1996).
In another Mexican study, predation by jaguar and puma accounted for about half
of all mortality experienced by adult white-nosed coatis (Hass & Valenzuela
In the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala, remains
of white-nosed coati were found 22 times more frequently in jaguar scats than in
puma scats (Novack et al. 2005).
On the llanos of Venezuela, remains
of the crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus) were found in 5% of
jaguar scats (Scognamillo et al. 2003). In addition, jaguar predation on
ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) has
been reported from Venezuela and Costa Rica (Mondolfi & Hoogestijn 1986;
Aranda M, Sanchez-Cordero V (1996) Prey spectra of Jaguar (Panthera
onca) and Puma (Felis concolor) in tropical forests of Mexico.
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Evolution 2: 393-428 (Cornell University Press, New York)
Bodmer RE (1991) Influence of digestive morphology on resource
partitioning in Amazonian ungulates. Oecologia 85: 361-365
Carrillo E, Morera R, Wong G (1994) Depredacion de tortuga lora (Lepidochelys
olivacea) y de tortuga verde (Chelonia mydas) por el jaguar (Panthera
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Farrell LE, Romant J, Sunquist ME (2000) Dietary separation of
sympatric carnivores identified by molecular analysis of scats.
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Fragoso JM, Huffman JM (2000)
Seed-dispersal and seedling recruitment patterns by the last Neotropical
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Information about this Review
This review is also available in
the following languages:
The author is: Dr. Paul D. Haemig (PhD in Animal Ecology)
photograph showing a puma in a tree was taken by Hans Stenström (Sweden).
The two lower photographs picture different color phases (morphs) of the jaguar.
The proper citation is:
Sympatric Jaguar and Puma. ECOLOGY.INFO #6
If you are aware of any important scientific publications about sympatric jaguar
and puma that were omitted from this review, or have other suggestions for
improving it, please contact the author at his e-mail address:
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