Panthera oncajaguar

Geographic Range

Jaguars have a large distribution, they are found from southern Arizona and New Mexico south toward northern Argentina and northeastern Brazil. However, populations have been substantially reduced or eliminated in some areas, including El Salvador, the United States, and large portions of Mexico. (Carrillo, 2007)

Jaguars currently encompass a range of approximately 8.75 million square kilometers, or 46% of their historical range. The largest contiguous distribution of jaguars is concentrated in the Amazon Basin and includes portions of the Cerrado, Pantanal, and Chaco areas to the south. This range extends north and east to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Guianas. Populations have been reduced primarily in northern Mexico, United States, northern Brazil, and southern Argentina. Populations have been extirpated in the Argentina Monte region and the grasslands of the Pampas. Jaguars are not typically found at higher elevations, such as Pantepui or Puna montane grasslands. (Sanderson, et al., 2002)


Jaguars prefer dense, tropical moist lowland forests that offer plenty of cover, although they are also found in scrubland, reed thickets, coastal forests, swamps, and thickets. Jaguars are excellent swimmers and are generally found in habitats near water, such as rivers, slow moving streams, lagoons, watercourses, and swamps. They are not typically found in arid areas. Jaguars have been reported from as high as 3800 m in Costa Rica, but they are generally not common in montane forests and are not found above 2700 meters in the Andes. In northern Mexico and southwestern United States, jaguars are found in oak woodlands, mesquite thickets, and riparian woodlands. Jaguars stalk their prey on the ground, preferring thick vegetation for cover. Jaguars are also able to climb trees for safety or to hunt. Jaguars require three habitat characteristics to support healthy populations: a water supply, dense cover, and sufficient prey. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Nowak, 1999)

  • Range elevation
    10 to 2000 m
    32.81 to 6561.68 ft
  • Average elevation
    100 m
    328.08 ft

Physical Description

Jaguars are the largest cats in the Americas and the only representative of the genus Panthera. Height at the shoulder may be up to 75 cm. Body length is 150 to 180 cm long with a tail of 70 to 90 cm. Jaguars weigh between 68 and 136 kilograms. Jaguars are powerfully built, with large, square jaws and prominent cheeks. Jaguars have lean bodies and muscular limbs. They are built for power, not speed, although they can run briefly. A jaguar was observed draging a 34 kg sea turtle 91.5 meters into the cover of a forest. They hunt by pouncing on unsuspecting prey. Base coat colors range from pale yellow to reddish brown, with black, rosette-shaped spots on the neck, body, and limbs. The belly is off white. Black, or melanistic, jaguars are fairly common and are the result of a single, dominant allele. These jaguars have a base coat color of black with black spots that are usually dimly visible against the black background. Melanistic jaguars are more common in forested habitats. The largest jaguars are found in the Brazilian Pantanal, where males average 100 kg and females 76 kg. The smallest jaguars are found in Honduras, where males average 57 kg and females 42 kg. In general, jaguars found in dense forests are smaller than those found in more open habitats, possibly because densities of large ungulate prey are greater in open habitats. Male jaguars are generally 10 to 20% larger than females. The dental formula is: I 3/3, C 1/1, PM 3/2, and M 1/1. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Baker, et al., 2002; Carrillo, 2007; Grzimek, 1973)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    68 to 136 kg
    149.78 to 299.56 lb
  • Average mass
    100 kg
    220.26 lb
  • Range length
    1.5 to 1.85 m
    4.92 to 6.07 ft
  • Average length
    1.75 m
    5.74 ft
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    62.4190 cm3.O2/g/hr
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    62.419 W


Jaguars typically communicate through vocalizations. Females in estrus venture out of their territory to call during the morning and late at night, advertising for a mate. Males answer those calls with their own vocalizations and travel to her territory to mate, leading to competition between males for that mating opportunity. It is not uncommon for a female to travel with one or two male jaguars during estrus, although a dominant male will usually drive a smaller male away. Females do not tolerate the presence of males after mating and especially after their cubs are born. (Baker, et al., 2002)

The estrus cycle is usually 37 days with estrus length of 6 to 17 days. Estrus may be indicated by behavioral changes such as lordosis, flehmen, vocalization, rolling, and increased scent marking. Males may show an increase in androgen levels throughout the year, but hormone levels peak during the time of receding flood waters in some areas. Jaguars may produce offspring year-round but mating typically increases during the months of December through March. Most births occur during the wet season, when prey is more abundant. Females give birth to 2 offspring (range 1 to 4) after a gestation period of 91 to 111 days. Female reproductive maturity occurs between 12 and 24 month, males become sexually mature at 24 to 36 months. (Baker, et al., 2002)

  • Breeding interval
    Females breed every two years.
  • Breeding season
    Jaguars may breed throughout the year, but most births occur in wet seasons, when prey is more abundant.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    91 to 111 days
  • Range weaning age
    5 to 6 months
  • Range time to independence
    1.75 to 2.5 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    12 to 24 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    24 to 36 months

Cubs are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependent on their mother. Their eyes open around two weeks old. Cubs nurse until they are 5 to 6 months old, at which time they begin to hunt with their mother. They depend on their mother for protection from predators, for food, and for guidance and teaching as they grow. Offspring are dependent on their mother until they are almost two years old. (Baker, et al., 2002; Grzimek, 1973; "IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Baker, et al., 2002; Grzimek, 1973)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • extended period of juvenile learning


Jaguars can live 11 to 12 years in the wild. Illness, accident, interactions with other animals, or hunting are major sources of mortality. In captivity jaguars may live over 20 years. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Baker, et al., 2002)


Jaguars are most active near dusk and dawn, although they may be active at any time of the day. They tend to rest mid-morning and afternoon. Jaguars lay in deep shade, under thick vegetation, in caves, or under large rocks when resting. They also rest near river banks and may be forced to rest in trees during flood seasons. Jaguars are dependent on water, especially during the dry season when they seek relief from heat. Jaguars are solitary with the exception of mating season, when males travel with females in estrus. Population densities may be as high as 1 animal per 15 square kilometers in the best of habitats. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Baker, et al., 2002; Carrillo, 2007)

  • Range territory size
    25 to 50 km^2
  • Average territory size
    35 km^2

Home Range

Jaguars have home ranges of approximately 25 to 38 square km for females, and up to double that for males. Adult male home ranges typically encompass two to three female home ranges. Males tend to travel farther in general than females, and jaguars travel longer distances in dry seasons than wet seasons. In one study mean daily travel distance was estimated at 3.3 km in males and 1.8 km in females. They defend their home ranges against other adult males. Jaguars mark territories with vocalization, by scraping trees, and by defecating and spraying urine on vegetation. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Baker, et al., 2002; Grzimek, 1973)

Communication and Perception

Jaguars mainly communicate through vocalizations. Vocalizations are grunting "uhs" increasing in tone and power, while decreasing in frequency between grunts. The typical vocalization includes seven to a dozen grunts, depending on whether the individual is a male, female, or female entering estrus. Males generally have more powerful vocalizations than females, whose grunts are softer except when in estrus. During estrus, female jaguars call late into the night through early dawn, using 5 to 7 grunts to announce herself. Male vocalizations in response to estrus females are hoarse and guttural. This is taken advantage of by hunters, who use a hollow gourd to mimic this call and attract jaguars to the hunter. Jaguars advertise territories through vocalizations, scraping the ground and trees, and defecating and urinating on prominent locations. (Baker, et al., 2002)

Food Habits

Jaguars are strictly carnivores. They eat a wide variety of prey, over 85 species have been reported in the diet of jaguars. Preferred prey are large animals, such as peccaries, tapirs, and deer. They also prey on caimans, turtles, snakes, porcupines, capybaras, fish, large birds, and many other animals. Jaguars typically attack prey by pouncing on them from a concealed spot. They either deliver a direct bite to the neck and then suffocate their prey, or they instantly kill them by piercing the back of the skull with their canines. Their powerful jaws and canines allow them to get through thick reptilian skin and turtle carapaces. Jaguars then drag their prey to a secluded spot where they eat them. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Baker, et al., 2002; Carrillo, 2007; Grzimek, 1973)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • fish


Humans are the primary predators of jaguars. Jaguars are victims of illegal poaching by humans and their pelts, paws, and teeth. They are cryptically colored and secretive, which helps them to hunt their prey and avoid detection by humans. (Baker, et al., 2002)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Jaguars are top predators and considered a keystone species because of their impact on the populations of other animals in the ecosystem. Internal parasites include lung flukes, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms. External parasites include ticks and warble fly larvae. (Glen and Dickman, 2005; Labrona, et al., 2005; Seymour, 1989)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Jaguars are top predators and keystone species in the ecosystems they inhabit. Jaguar pelts and furs are sold for profit, despite it being illegal to hunt them in most countries. The implementation of laws protecting jaguars has improved in recent years. Jaguars are also an important source of ecotourism income to local communities where jaguars might be observed. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996; Glen and Dickman, 2005; Seymour, 1989)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Jaguars occasionally hunt cattle and other livestock, which leads to persecution by ranchers. Some countries, such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru, prohibit hunting jaguars to only "problem animals" that repeatedly kill livestock. Bolivia allows trophy hunting of jaguars. Jaguars do not attack humans without provocation. Occasionally jaguars have been observed following humans, but this is thought to be to "escort" them out of their territory. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Jaguars are considered near threatened by the IUCN. They are considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are on Appendix I of CITES. Many populations remain stable but jaguars are threatened throughout most of their range by hunting, persecution, and habitat destruction. Jaguars are persecuted especially in areas of cattle ranching, where they are often shot on sight despite protective legislation. ("IUCN - The World Conservation Union", 1996)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Jonathan Nogueira (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor, instructor), Radford University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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Attenborough, D. 2002. The life of mammals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Azevedo, F. 2008. Food habits and livestock depredation of sympatric jaguars and pumas in the Iguaçu national park area, south Brazil. Biotropica, 40/4: 494-500.

Baker, W., S. Deem, A. Hunt, L. Munson, S. Johnson. 2002. Jaguar species survival plan. Pp. 9-13 in C Law, ed. Guidlines for captive management of jaguars, Vol. 1/1. Forth Worth, Texas: Jaguar Species Survival Plan Management Group.

Carrillo, E. 2007. Tracking the elusive jaguar. Natural History, 116/4: 30-34.

Crawshaw, P., H. Quigley. 1991. Jaguar spacing, activity and habitat use in a seasonally flooded environment in brazil. Biological Sciences, 223/3: 357-370.

Friederici, P. 1998. Return of the jaguar. Biology Digest, 36/4: 48-51.

Glen, A., C. Dickman. 2005. Complex interactions among mammilian carnivores in Australia, and implications for wildlife management. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 80/3: 387-401.

Gonzalez, C. 2002. Do jaguars (panthera onca) depend on large prey?. Biological Sciences, 62/2: 218-222.

Grzimek, B. 1973. Grzimek's animal life encyclopedia. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Complany.

Labrona, M., R. Jorge, D. Sana. 2005. Ticks(acari: lxodida) on wild carnivores in Brazil. Experimental and Applied Acarology, 36/1: 151-165.

Macdonald, D. 2006. Encyclopedia of mammals. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's mammals of the world. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Sanderson, E., K. Reford, C. Chetkiewicz, R. Medellin, A. Rabinowitz. 2002. Planning to save a species: the jaguar as a model. Conservation Biology, 16/1: 58-72.

Seymour, K. 1989. Panthera onca. Mammalian Species, 340: 1-9.

Wainwright, M. 2007. The mammals of Costa Rica: A natural history and field guide. New York: Cornell University Press.