Jaguar facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
A jaguar at the Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens
A "black panther" jaguar
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Binomial name
Panthera onca
Linnaeus, 1758
Jaguar range

The jaguar is a wild cat species and the only member of the genus Panthera native to the Americas. The jaguar's present range extends from Southwestern United States and Mexico and across much of Central America. Though there are single cats now living within the western United States, the species has largely been extirpated from the United States since the early 20th century. It is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List; and its numbers are declining. Threats include loss and fragmentation of habitat.

The jaguar is the largest cat species in the Americas and the third-largest after the tiger and the lion. This spotted cat closely resembles the leopard, but is usually larger and sturdier. It ranges across a variety of forested and open terrains. The jaguar enjoys swimming and is largely a solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predator at the top of the food chain. As a keystone species it plays an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating prey populations.

Moche jaguar figurine (300 AD), Larco Museum Lima, Peru

The cat is frequently killed, particularly in conflicts with ranchers and farmers in South America. Although reduced, its range remains large. Given its historical distribution in pre-Columbian Central and South America, the jaguar was a symbol of power and strength. Among the Andean cultures, a jaguar cult disseminated by the early Chavín culture became accepted over most of what is today Peru by 900 BC.


The jaguar, a compact and well-muscled animal, is the largest cat in the New World and the largest carnivorous mammal in Central and South America. Its coat is generally a tawny yellow, but ranges to reddish-brown, for most of the body. The ventral areas are white. The fur is covered with rosettes for camouflage in the light of its forest habitat. The spots and their shapes vary between individual jaguars. Forest jaguars are frequently darker and considerably smaller than those in open area's.

Panthera onca
A jaguar

The jaguar stands 63 to 76 cm (25 to 30 in) tall at the shoulders. Compared to the similarly colored leopard, the jaguar is bigger, heavier and relatively stocky in build. The animal has a very powerful bite, even compared to other big cats. Because of its this jaguars can bite through armoured reptiles like caimans, crocodiles, turtles and tortoises.

While the jaguar closely resembles the leopard, it is sturdier and heavier, and the two animals can be distinguished by their rosettes: the rosettes on a jaguar's coat are larger, fewer in number, usually darker, and have thicker lines and small spots in the middle that the leopard lacks. Jaguars also have rounder heads and shorter, stockier limbs compared to leopards.


Jaguars live in South and Central America. They prefer to live by rivers, swamps, and in dense rainforest with thick cover for stalking prey, though have been found to live in scrub-lands and deserts also. Jaguars have been found at elevations as high as 3,800 m.

Hunting and diet

9008 jaguar caught a bird JF low res
Jaguar with a bird

Like all cats, the jaguar is an obligate carnivore, feeding only on meat. It is an opportunistic hunter and its diet encompasses at least 87 species. When hunting, they usually try to secretly get very close to the prey, and then the jaguar suddenly jumps at it and throws it down. It then takes the prey to a safe place and eats it. The jaguar is often described as nocturnal, but is more specifically crepuscular (peak activity around dawn and dusk).

The jaguar is a stalk-and-ambush rather than a chase predator. The cat will walk slowly down forest paths, listening for and stalking prey before rushing or ambushing. The jaguar attacks from cover and usually from a target's blind spot with a quick pounce; the species' ambushing abilities are considered nearly peerless in the animal kingdom by both indigenous people and field researchers. The ambush may include leaping into water after prey, as a jaguar is quite capable of carrying a large kill while swimming; its strength is such that carcasses as large as a heifer can be hauled up a tree to avoid flood levels.


Jaguars at Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas

After a pregnancy of about 100 days the female gives birth to usually 1 - 4 babies. The young leave their family after 1–2 years, and they become mature at about 3 years. The young are born blind, gaining sight after two weeks. Cubs are weaned at three months, but remain in the birth den for six months before leaving to accompany their mother on hunts. They will continue in their mother's company for one to two years before leaving to establish a territory for themselves. Jaguars can live up to 10–12 years old in freedom, but in captivity (such as in zoos) they can live to 20–22 years old.

The only extant cat native to North America that roars, the jaguar was recorded as an animal of the Americas by Thomas Jefferson in 1799. Jaguars are still occasionally sighted in Arizona and New Mexico, prompting actions for its conservation by authorities. For example, on the 20th of August, 2012, the USFWS proposed setting aside 838,232 acres in Arizona and New Mexico — an area larger than Rhode Island — as critical jaguar habitat.

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Jaguar Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.