All About Jaguars: Ecology
All About Jaguars: Threats


All About Jaguars: ECOLOGY



Photo: Rafael Hoogesteijn

Jaguars, the largest cat and top terrestrial predator in the Western Hemisphere, are only found in the New World. Generally smaller than lion and the tiger, they are similar in appearance to the African and Asian leopard but have shorter tails, a more powerful and compact body, and a more robust head. The jaguar's short muscular limbs make it perfectly adapted to climbing, swimming, crawling — and capturing prey like peccaries, caimans, and deer. Jaguar weights vary depending on the habitat, sex, and prey available. Adult male and female jaguars may weigh between 124 - 211 lbs., but larger individuals weighing 288 - 333 lbs. have been recorded by scientists. Their length varies from 5.3 - 6 ft. with females being 10 to 20 % smaller than males.


Courtesy Partridge Films

Jaguars, like leopards, are known for their elegant, spotted coat. Normally yellow and tan, the coat can also vary from a reddish brown color to black. Spotting is highly variable and the black rosettes can sometimes include one or several dots. The spots on their head and neck are generally solid and then turn into large blotches along the sides and back. Their underbelly, throat, and outer surface of the legs and lower flanks are white.

Jaguars were historically found from the southwestern United States to southern Argentina. Its range is now reduced. The results from WCS's workshop, held in Mexico in 1999, indicated that jaguars have been lost from over 50% of their range since 1900 (MAP) . Most of the loss has occurred in Mexico and the United States in the north, and in Brazil and Argentina in the south. The largest contiguous area of jaguar range is centered in the Amazon Basin and includes adjoining areas in the Cerrado, Pantanal, and Chaco to the south and extending to the Caribbean coast in Venezuela and the Guianas. Jaguar range has decreased due to deforestation, conversion of land to other uses, and killing of jaguars and their prey. See Threats to Jaguars.

The scientific name for jaguars, Panthera onca, means "hunter" and "hook" or "barb," referring to their stealth and their formidable claws. Jaguars eat a wide variety of animals from armadillos to turtles to livestock such as cattle.


Photo: Peter Crawshaw

Breeding may occur year round.
Gestation lasts 90-110 days and litter size varies from one to four young. Kittens stay with their mother from one to one-and-one-half years. Females reach sexual maturity at two to two-and-one-half years. Jaguars can live up to 12 years in the wild.



Photo: Rafael Hoogesteijn

Jaguars are very catholic in their habitat choices. WCS's workshop in Mexico indicated that jaguars were observed and studied in many kinds of forest, grassland, and dry habitat types. Our experts indicated that jaguars also share their habitats with human land uses such as ranching, logging, and agriculture.

Home Range:


Photo: Howard Quigley

In order to determine home range, scientists radio-collar jaguars and follow their movements intensively throughout the year. Research on radio collared jaguars has been conducted in Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Brazil. Studies have shown that home range size varies by habitat and available prey and by sex. In general, males range over areas twice the size of females and home ranges of males and females overlap.



Photo: Rafael Hoogesteijn

The total number of jaguars throughout their range is unknown. The majority of previous research studies have focused on a relatively small area. One of the components of the Jaguar Conservation Program is to establish a monitoring program that will focus on population status at four levels: the individual site; the region; the landscape; and finally the entire range of the jaguar (See Jaguar Conservation).

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