Jaguar kills another predatory cat in never-before-seen footage

Black and white image shows a jaguar carrying an ocelot by the neck away from a watering hole
(Image credit: Washington State University)

A sleek, spotted ocelot slinks down to a watering hole for a drink, when suddenly, a jaguar leaps from the shadows and bites down on the small cat's neck.

Scientists captured footage of this unusual attack in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala in March 2019; they recently described the rare predator-on-predator interaction in a paper published Dec. 28 in the journal Biotropica

In the past, remnants of ocelots have been found in jaguar feces, suggesting that the larger feline predator sometimes preys upon the smaller one, according to a statement. Jaguars can grow to be between 200 and 250 pounds (90 and 113 kilograms), depending on their sex, while ocelets only reach about 18 to 44 lbs. (8.2-19.9 kg). Both cats are carnivores and feed on animals such as fish, frogs, rodents and monkeys — however, on occasion, an ocelot will end up on the menu of a voracious jaguar.

Until now, such an attack had never been caught on camera.

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"Although these predator-on-predator interactions may be rare, there may be certain instances when they become more prevalent, and one of those could be over contested water resources," study author Daniel Thornton, an assistant professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University, said in the statement. In other words, predators like jaguars and ocelots are more likely to clash if they're driven to the same few watering holes.

The team captured footage of the jaguar-ocelot attack in a particularly dry month during a drought year. These seasonal periods of dryness may become more pronounced as the climate continues to warm, meaning watering holes may become scarcer than in the past, Thornton said. 

"The more isolated and rare water resources become, the more they're going to become hotspots of activity," Thornton said. This activity may include more predator-predator interactions, as captured in the new footage, according to the statement.

In the video, the unsuspecting ocelot enters from the right and walks away from the camera toward the water's edge. As it stoops toward the watering hole, a male jaguar leaps from the left, a blur of spots and limbs. The large cat quickly grabs the ocelot by the neck and drags it off into the night.

On a different occasion at the same watering hole, the team also spotted two jaguars fighting each other; in total, they observed seven jaguars that regularly visited the site. Jaguars typically avoid one another and establish their own territories, so it's unusual for so many to come in close contact, according to the statement.

Originally published on Live Science. 

Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.