Jaguar Facts: Biggest Cat in Americas

A jaguar cub inspects a camera trap, set up by the cat conservation group Panthera, in a Colombian oil plantation while its sibling looks on.
A jaguar cub inspects a camera trap, set up by the cat conservation group Panthera, in a Colombian oil plantation while its sibling looks on.
Credit: Panthera

Jaguars are large cats that can be found in North, Central and South America. They are identified by their yellow or orange coats, dark spots and short legs. The dark spots on their coats are unlike any other cat spots. Each spot looks like a rose and are called rosettes. 

Jaguars are the biggest cats in the Americas and the third largest cats in the world. From head to flank, these cats range in length from 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.95 meters). The tail can add another 2 feet (60 cm) in length, though their tails are quite short when compared to other large cats. Lions' tails, by comparison, can grow up to 3.5 feet (105 cm).

Males are heavier than females. Males can weigh from 126 to 250 pounds (57-113 kilograms), while females weigh 100 to 200 pounds (45-90 kg), according to the Denver Zoo

A jaguar mother with her two cubs in a Colombian oil palm plantation.
A jaguar mother with her two cubs in a Colombian oil palm plantation.
Credit: Panthera


Baby jaguars

In August and September, jaguars mate. After mating, the female will carry her young for around 100 days and will give birth to one to four young. 

Baby jaguars are called cubs. They are born with their eyelids sealed shut. After about two weeks, the cubs are able to see for the first time. After six months, the cubs' mother will teach them how to hunt, and after their second birthday, the cub will leave their mother to live on their own.

What do jaguars eat?

Jaguars are carnivores, which means they eat only meat. In the wild, jaguars will use their speed and stealth to take down deer, peccary, monkeys, birds, frogs, fish, alligators and small rodents. If wild food is scarce, these large cats will also hunt domestic livestock

Their jaws are stronger than any other species of cat. With these strong jaws, jaguars will crunch down on bones and eat them. In fact, in the zoo, bones are part of a jaguars' regular diet.

Where do jaguars live?

Jaguars typically live in forests or woods, but they are also found in desert areas, such as Arizona. They tend to stay close to water and they like to fish. Jaguars will dip their tails into the water to lure fish, much like a fishing line.

Jaguars are loners that only spend time with others of their kind when they are mating or taking care of cubs. To keep other jaguars at bay, they mark their territory with urine or by marking trees with their claws. Their territories can be up to 50 miles wide, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

They also don't like to share their food. Jaguars will only eat their prey after dragging into the trees, even if the trees are quite a distance away.


  • Class: Mammalia 
  • Order: Carnivora 
  • Family: Felidae 
  • Genus: Panthera 
  • Species: Onca 

Are jaguars endangered?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List, the jaguar is "near threatened" due to poaching and the destruction of the rainforest. TheWorld Wildlife Federation states that there are only 15,000 jaguars left in the wild.

Other facts

Their name comes from the Native American word "yajuar." Yajuar means "he who kills with one leap." During a hunt, jaguars take advantage of their strong jaws and sharp teeth. They catch their prey by the head and chop down to make the kill. Other cats go for the neck when killing prey.

Melanistic or all black jaguars occur due to a genetic mutation. This mutation causes the skin and fur to contain larger amounts of a dark pigment. These types of jaguars are found in rainforests because it is easier for them to blend into the dark shadows of the trees. 

Jaguars can see six times better than humans at night or during darker conditions due to a layer of tissue in the back of the eye that reflects light. 

The jaguar is a top-level predator. It doesn't have any natural predators other than humans, who hunt them for their fur or sport.

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