The jaguar is one of the four “big cats” along with the tiger, lion, and leopard. This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger, compact and a well-muscled animal.
Jaguars mainly live in the dense rainforest of Mexico, Central America, Paraguay and northern Argentina and near water because they enjoy swimming.
The jaguar is a largely solitary, stalk-and-ambush predator that carefully selects its prey. Its powerful bite allows it to pierce the shells of armoured reptiles like tortoises and to bite directly through the skulls of its prey.
It is commonly confused with the leopard, since they both have spots on their golden-yellow coloured fur. However, the jaguar’s spots form circular rings with a dot in the center.
This pattern is called a rosette and used for camouflage in the jungle. Some jaguars appear entirely black because of a condition known as melanism.
Females provide all parenting after giving birth to cubs. They can produce up to four cubs. The mother will not tolerate the presence of males after the birth of cubs, given a risk of infant cannibalism by the males.
The young are born blind and gain 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.
A jaguar’s lifespan in the wild is estimated at around 12–15 years. However in captivity, the jaguar lives up to 23 years, placing it among the longest-lived cats.