About the Jaguar

As the largest cat native to North America and the third largest cat in the world, the jaguar (Panthera onca) ranges from Arizona to Argentina and has long been esteemed for its unequivocal power and striking beauty.

Commonly identified by their spotted coats, jaguars have golden yellow/brownish fur with individually unique, dark rosette markings. Jaguars can be distinguished from their leopard cousins by the small irregular shapes within these larger markings. Called tigre mariposo, the spot patterns found on northern jaguars can conjure images of butterflies.

Jaguars sport stocky, muscular bodies and thick chests, large and broad heads, relatively compact limbs, paws the size of saucers, and short tails compared to mountain lions. They measure five to eight feet from nose to tail and often appear larger than they actually are. Weighing between 90 to 150 pounds, jaguars found in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands are noticeably petite compared to their South American relatives.

Unlike mountain lions who kill prey by grabbing the throat, jaguars pierce their prey’s skull or neck from behind with one swift bite – demonstrating the amazing strength of their powerful jaws and impressive teeth. As strong climbers and excellent swimmers, jaguars are perfectly adapted to capture deer, javelina, bighorn sheep, birds, turtles, snakes, and fish. More than 100 different species have been recorded in their diet.

Jaguars will mate any time of year, although births tend to peak during the rainy season. Males and females are only together for courtship and mating, leaving the female to raise her young alone. Following a roughly three-month gestation period, a female jaguar will give birth to a litter of two to four cubs. The cubs are blind at birth and do not leave the den for several weeks. They learn how to hunt after six months and will stay with their mothers for up to two years before striking out to find their own territory. In the wild, the average lifespan of a jaguar is 12 to 16 years.

Like many large, solitary predators, jaguars can wander and cover an immense territory with documented home ranges of hundreds of miles. They flag their territories with urine, scent markings, and by scratching trees. While these elusive cats once roamed throughout the southern United States, only seven jaguars have been seen in Arizona and New Mexico since the mid-1990s. The species is endangered in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Did you know?:

  • Jaguars once roamed as far north as the Grand Canyon.
  • Jaguars have blue eyes when they are born.
  • Mostly nocturnal, jaguars can be active during the day in areas with little human disturbance.
  • Jaguars are one of the few wild cats with melanistic individuals, yet black jaguars have never been sighted in their northern range.
  • Jaguars tire quickly and rely on proximity while hunting rather than sustained speed.
  • Jaguar tracks are unmistakably round, both the pad and the four toes that touch the ground.
  • Jaguars have a varied vocal repertoire, including snarls, growls, and “roars,” which are more like hoarse coughs or grunts.
  • Jaguars have huge eyes, the largest of all carnivores relative to head size.
  • The Maya believed if you spread out the skin of a jaguar, the evening sky appeared in front of you. The jaguar’s coat was a map to the celestial heavens, and it was the jaguar who helped the sun travel under the Earth at night, ensuring it would rise each morning.