While often confused with its felidae family counterpart the Leopard, the mighty Jaguar is a completely different animal, with unique and distinct physical characteristics all of its own. While anyone who embarks on a dedicated wildlife watching trip in the hopes of encountering this magnificent big cat will not be doing any of the Jaguar tracking themselves – this is the job of experienced naturists and local guides that accompany the tours – it can be very useful to learn a little about the animal's physical characteristics. |
This spotted big cat is the third largest in the Panthera genus, with only the Lion and Tiger exceeding it in size and body weight. While it may resemble the Leopard most closely, its behavioural traits are closest to those of a Tiger.
Size and Structure
A male's average size is around 55-95kgs, but they have been recorded as weighing up to 150kgs. From the head to the tip of the tail, a male can measure between 2.3-2.6 metres, and can stand about 65-75cms high. Females are generally about 10-20% smaller than males.
Jaguars are stocky and muscular, allowing them to be extremely agile on both land and water – able to crawl, climb, swim, and hunt prey up to 360 kgs. Their physical strength also allows them to drag their prey long distances into the privacy of the jungle and even up trees to feed.
Coat and Colour
The big cat's coat is most commonly yellowish-gold with black 'rosettes', or spots, but it can also appear black or reddish-brown – which is known as melanistic. Melanism occurs when there is an increased amount of pigmentation, but it is quite rare, accounting for only about 6% of the entire population in Central and South America.
While it may appear these darker coloured big cats (also known as Black Panthers) have no spots, this is not true; although harder to discern, the rosettes are present. The rosettes, which are unique to each individual, are larger than the Leopard's and also have smaller spots inside them – sometimes several, sometimes just one. The spots around the tail and head area are generally solid and may merge into a band around the tail. The fur around the lower flanks, throat and underbelly is generally white.
Head and Teeth
The animal has a very distinctive broad head, extremely powerful jaws, and a shorter tail than the Leopard. Its jaws allow it the status as one of the animal world's most efficient killing machines. Employing a unique method of killing its prey, it stalks it stealthily before ambushing and slaying it with one swift strike through the temporal bones of the skull with its lethal canine teeth. This ability also enables it to pierce the shells of turtles, should the opportunity arise.
While there is still much to be learnt about this secretive big cat, understanding aspects of not only its behaviours, but its physical characteristics and habitat, allows researchers and guides involved in Jaguar tracking to more accurately predict where and when they may appear within their territory.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar tracking in the Brazilian Pantanal region. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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