Amazing facts about a jaguar

Picture of a jaguar.

Pre-Columbian Indians were so overwhelmed by the cat’s striking appearance that they called it a god!

Its spotted coat, they said, represented the star-studded night sky.

The setting sun deepened its colors: golden yellow to reddish brown, paling to a light buff on its cheeks, chest, and belly.

Most striking, though, were the irregular black markings, or rosettes, covering almost its entire body.

Even today, some regard the jaguar as the unchallenged king of the South American animals.

A male—often six feet [1.8 m] long, not counting the tail—may weigh about 250 pounds [110 kg]!

Its rounded head and muscular neck; its barrellike body; its short, stout legs; and big paws all ooze majestic strength.

The jaguar is rarely seen, preferring sheltered places.

Leaving its ‘calling card’

The jaguar does leave its ‘calling card’ throughout the country.

You may see their paw prints on the muddy Atlantic beaches.

Or see scratched tree trunks at the Brazilian border.

It has been suggested that this is a way that jaguars mark the boundaries of their territory.

Jaguars also scratch their claws against trees to sharpen them.

Another way that jaguars signal ‘I’ve been here’ is by leaving scent marks and droppings.

One jaguar often stakes out an area covering from 15 to 40 square miles [40-100 sq km] of dense jungle.

No wonder that explorers have caught only glimpses of jaguar life!

But when we put all these sightings together, a fascinating picture emerges.

See how it unfolds.

A look at the world of jaguars

Evening approaches.

Sounds of buzzing insects, warbling birds, and screeching monkeys surround us. But, listen!

Menacing, hoarse growls filter through the trees.

Then ominous silence.

Scampering animals and whizzing ground birds scatter.

Now another round of deep snarls, as terrifying as a lion’s roar!

A robust male jaguar emerges.

This is his realm—riverine jungle and swamps.

Of all the big cats, the jaguar is the one most at home in water.

In fact, it needs water both for fun and for business—fishing business that is.

Off he goes to his fishing ground across the river.

He paddles deftly in an almost straight line, all the while holding his head, spine, and the tip of his tail above the surface of the water.

Jaguars are excellent swimmers and they swim so fast that they make bow waves.

At times they even cross cataracts!

When the jaguar reaches the opposite bank, he climbs out and shakes the water off his body.

He crouches on a log overhanging the river, fixing his eyes on the water surface as if he wants to pierce the depth below.

Then, with lightning speed, his sharp-clawed paw scoops out his finny prey.

Biologist Pieter Teunissen, who also has observed jaguars in the wild, says:

“I once discovered from drag marks on a beach that a jaguar had hurled a massive aitkantie [leatherback turtle] 13 feet [4 m] through the air.”

The jaguar is not only strong but also versatile.

It is a hunter in three environments, adept in water, on land, and in the trees.

When wading or when climbing trees, its claws provide sure footing, like the spiked shoes of a mountaineer.

On land it retracts its claws and moves as if walking on sound-dampening socks—great feet for stalking.

But a hunter also needs patience, speed, and timing.

No wonder it takes two years of motherly training before young jaguars can fend for themselves!

After six weeks young cubs will follow their mother around.

However, they remain hidden in thick cover while she goes after game.

Cautiously, she moves along the river’s edge until she detects a group of capybaras, the world’s largest rodents.

With timed movements she inches forward, then pauses, eyes fixed on the quarry.

Her entire body is motionless, only the tip of the tail twitching.

But sensing her presence, the capybaras dive under water.

Defeat, however, is rare for the jaguar.

In fact, the cat scores so often that the capybara has been called “the jaguar’s daily bread.”

Side dishes?

There are plenty.

From small agoutis to bulky tapir.

Even porcupines, turtles, and caimans are not safe.

Occasionally, the cat even looks beyond the forest into the pastures.

Cows and a calves have been  attacked by a jaguar

But these attacks mostly involve old jaguars ousted by younger rivals or animals suffering from old shotgun injuries.

What of jaguars attacking humans?

“No, that must be rare,” says an animal doctor.

Biologist Teunissen concurs.

He recalls walking along the beach one night while assisting in a sea-turtle research project.

When he returned, his flashlight revealed jaguar paw prints pressed on top of his own footprints.

A cat had been following him!

Instead of doing him harm, the cat vanished as soon as the biologist backtracked.

“They do attack turtles,” says Mr. Teunissen, “so when I had to dig up turtle eggs during the night, I felt a bit uneasy.

The sound of falling sand resembles that of a digging turtle.

All I could do,” he continues, “was whirl my flashlight once in a while, hoping that jaguars know that turtles don’t come with flashlights.”