Puma Illustration

JAGUAR (Panthera onca)

The jaguar is America’s largest cat, with the largest males weighing over three hundred pounds. Jaguars have a considerably large range, being found from extreme southern Arizona in the United States to northern Argentina. They are incredibly adapted to water, often hunting caiman and capybara in rivers and wetlands. Their numbers are decreasing across their range.

Difficulty: Easy

Jaguar Tour Statistics




Jaguar Description

The jaguar is the world’s third largest cat. Its robust body resembles that of a pitbull, with a very muscular chest and forelimbs. The legs are relatively short, as is its tail, which is only about half of its head to body length. The jaguars of the Pantanal are the biggest in the world, with females weighing up to 100kg (220 lbs) and males reaching weights up to 158kg (348 lbs). The jaguars coat pattern consists of a yellow undercoat with black rosettes, which often contain their own spots on the inside. Melanism, which make the cat appear black, occurs frequently in Jaguars, but has not been observed in the Pantanal.

This female jaguar from the Cuiaba River is known as Medrosa. She perfectly shows off the robust body of her species here. Note her lactating tit, she was nursing two cubs at the time.

Jaguar Distribution and Habitat

Jaguars have a very large distribution. They are found from northern Mexico to northern Argentina, with a few males crossing into extreme southern Arizona from time to time. Their densities are some of the highest in the Pantanal of Brazil, where we hold our Jaguar photo tour. Jaguars are found in a variety of woodland habitats, including dense tropical and subtropical rainforest, savanna woodlands, dry forest, and even scrubland. For our jaguar photo tour, we will encounter the cats in seasonally flooded savanna woodland and grassland. Jaguars are closely associated with water and are excellent swimmers.

Jaguars are closely associated with water. Their feet are adapted to swimming and much of their hunting is done one the river in the Pantanal.

Jaguar Feeding Biology

Jaguars have a varied diet with over eighty-six different prey species. This includes very large prey like tapirs and marsh deer. In the Pantanal, where we hold our jaguar photo tour, the cats primarily predate capybara and yacare caiman. The jaguars large, muscular head provides it with one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom, being able to crush the skull of caiman. To hunt their prey, they use the typical feline strategy of stalking and pouncing. This is also the case in the Pantanal where they will hide on the riverbanks and then launch down into the river to pursue their prey.

This jaguar female perfectly demonstrates the typical hunting strategy seen in the Pantanal. She launches herself down the riverbank to pursue the yacare caiman.

Jaguar Social Organization

Jaguars are generally thought of as being solitary, and they hold and maintain territories. A males territory is much larger than that of a female, and it will encompass as many females territories as possible. Females, on the other hand hold territories large enough to have and raise cubs. In the Pantanal, during the dry season, territories of females will overlap significantly, since prey is pushed into significantly smaller areas. Jaguars generally avoid interactions with each other and engage in typical territorial behaviors including scent-marking and roaring.

A male jaguar yawns as he scent marks the reeds on the riverbank in Brazil’s Pantanal. By spraying his urine he is marking his territory.

Jaguar Reproduction

Jaguar reproduction is seasonal, this means they do not have a clearly defined breeding season. In the Pantanal, jaguar breeding season may have higher peaks in the dry season, compared to the wet season, but this is not yet studied. The female will usually give birth to between one and four cubs. Jaguar cubs are weaned at about 10 weeks and nursing fully stops around four to five months. At 16-24 months old, jaguar cubs are independent and disperse from their mother’s home range. It is largely unknown how old jaguars live for in the wild, but it is likely to be around 15 to 16 years.

Medrosa, with one of her two cubs in 2021. Seeing jaguar cubs is truly an incredibly special experience and one our guests never forget.