Jaguars are the only big cat in the Americas and the third biggest in the world after tigers and lions. They look a lot like leopards, which live in Africa and Asia, but jaguars’ spots are more complex and often have a dot in the center.

These powerful cats were worshipped as gods in many ancient South American cultures, and representations of the jaguar show up in the art and archaeology of pre-Columbian cultures across the jaguar’s range.

Diet and Behavior

Unlike many other cats, jaguars do not avoid water. In fact, they are quite good swimmers. They hunt fish, turtles, and even caimans, using their incredibly powerful jaws to pierce the animals’ skulls. Jaguars also eat deer, peccaries, capybaras, tapirs, and a number of other land animals, which they prefer to ambush at night.

Jaguars live alone, and they’re territorial—they define their area by marking with their waste or clawing trees.

Females have litters of one to four cubs, which are blind and helpless at birth. The mother stays with them and defends them fiercely from any animal that may approach—even their own father. Young jaguars learn to hunt by living with their mothers for two years or more.



Jaguars once roamed broadly from central Argentina all the way up to the southwestern United States. Since the 1880s, they’ve lost more than half their territory. Their main stronghold today is the Amazon Basin, though they still exist in smaller numbers through Central America as well.

They’re typically found in tropical rainforests but also live in savannas and grasslands.

Life Span

12 to 15 years in the wilderness; up to 20 years in zoos.


Incubation: 3 to 3.5 months

Number of youthful upon entering the world: 1 to 4; the normal is 2

The weight upon entering the world: 1.5 to 2 pounds (700 to 900 grams).


Length: 3.8 to 6 feet (1.1 to 1.8 meters)

Weight: 70 to 249 pounds (31 to 121 kilograms); guys are bigger than females; panthers living in South America’s Pantanal district are a lot bigger



Jaguars are the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest overall. Only lions and tigers are bigger.

Jaguars are completely at home in the water and are seldom far from a river or lake.

A jaguar may go “fishing” by waving its tail over the water to attract hungry fish.

The South American native word for jaguar, yaguara, means “animal that kills in a single bound.”

Big cats like jaguars have the best 3-D vision of all carnivores, which helps them gauge distances when jumping.

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