AskDefine | Define jaguar

Dictionary Definition

jaguar n : a large spotted feline of tropical America similar to the leopard; in some classifications considered a member of the genus Felis [syn: panther, Panthera onca, Felis onca]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Jaguar



  • a RP /ˈdʒæɡjuːə/
  • a US /ˈdʒæɡwɑr/, /"dZ Jaguar (cat)
  1. Jaguar (car)

Extensive Definition

The jaguar (Panthera onca, in British English, or /ˡdʒægwɑr/ in American English) is a New World mammal of the Felidae family and one of four "big cats" in the Panthera genus, along with the tiger, lion, and leopard of the Old World. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and on average the largest and most powerful feline in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Mexico (with occasional sightings in the southwestern United States) across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.
This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger and of sturdier build and its behavioural and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. While dense rainforest is its preferred habitat, the jaguar will range across a variety of forested and open terrain. It is strongly associated with the presence of water and is notable, along with the tiger, as a feline that enjoys swimming. The jaguar is a largely solitary, stalk-and-ambush predator, and is opportunistic in prey selection. It is also an apex and keystone predator, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of prey species. The jaguar has developed an exceptionally powerful bite, even relative to the other big cats. This allows it to pierce the shells of armoured reptiles and to employ an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of prey between the ears to deliver a fatal blow to the brain.
The jaguar is a near threatened species and its numbers are declining. Threats include habitat loss and fragmentation. While international trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited, the cat is still regularly killed by humans, particularly in conflicts with ranchers and farmers in South America. Although reduced, its range remains large; given its historical distribution, the jaguar has featured prominently in the mythology of numerous indigenous American cultures, including that of the Maya and Aztec.


The etymology of the word jaguar is unclear. Some sources suggest a borrowing from the South American Tupi language to English via Portuguese, while others attribute the term to the related Guaraní languages. In the Tupi language, the original and complete indigenous name for the species is jaguara, which has been reported as a denotation for any carnivorous animal—in the compound form jaguareté, -eté means "true". "dog-bodied", or "fierce dog". Early etymological reports were that jaguara means "a beast that kills its prey with one bound", and this claim persists in a number of sources. However, this has been challenged as incorrect.
Onca is said to denote "barb" or "hook", a reference to the animal's powerful claws, but the most correct etymology is simply that it is an adaptation of the current Portuguese name for the animal, onça (on-sa), with the cedilla dropped for typographical reasons.


The jaguar, Panthera onca, is the only extant New World member of the Panthera genus. DNA evidence shows that the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, and clouded leopard share a common ancestor and that this group is between six and ten million years old; the fossil record points to the emergence of Panthera just two to 3.8 million years ago. Phylogenetic studies generally have shown that the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is basal to this group. The position of the remaining species varies between studies and is effectively unresolved. Many studies place the snow leopard within the genus Panthera or be moved to Panthera uncia.

Geographical variation

The last taxonomic delineation of the jaguar subspecies was performed by Pocock in 1939. Based on geographic origins and skull morphology, he recognized eight subspecies. However, he did not have access to sufficient specimens to critically evaluate all subspecies, and he expressed doubt about the status of several. Later consideration of his work suggested only three subspecies should be recognized.
Recent studies have also failed to find evidence for well defined subspecies, and are no longer recognized. Larson (1997) studied the morphological variation in the jaguar and showed that there is clinal north–south variation, but also that the differentiation within the supposed subspecies is larger than that between them and thus does not warrant subspecies subdivision. A genetic study by Eizirik and coworkers in 2001 confirmed the absence of a clear geographical subspecies structure, although they found that major geographical barriers such as the Amazon River limited the exchange of genes between the different populations.
Pocock's subspecies divisions are still regularly listed in general descriptions of the cat. Seymore grouped these in three subspecies. (roughly matching a tigress or lioness), and smaller ones have extremely low weights of 36 kilograms (80 lb). Females are typically 10–20% smaller than males. The length of the cat varies from 1.62–1.83 meters (5.3–6 ft), and its tail may add a further 75 centimeters (30 in). It stands about 67–76 centimeters (27–30 in) tall at the shoulders.
Further variations in size have been observed across regions and habitats, with size tending to increase from the north to south. A study of the jaguar in the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve on the Mexican Pacific coast, showed ranges of just 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb), about the size of the cougar. By contrast, a study of the Jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal region found average weights of 100 kilograms (220 lb). Forest jaguars are frequently darker and considerably smaller than those found in open areas (the Pantanal is an open wetland basin), possibly due to the fewer large herbivorous prey in forest areas.
A short and stocky limb structure makes the jaguar adept at climbing, crawling and swimming. It has been reported that "an individual jaguar can drag a 360 kg (800 lb) bull 8 m (25 ft) in its jaws and pulverize the heaviest bones". The jaguar hunts wild animals weighing up to 300 kilograms (660 lb) in dense jungle, and its short and sturdy physique is thus an adaptation to its prey and environment. The base coat of the jaguar is generally a tawny yellow, but can range to reddish-brown and black. The cat is covered in rosettes for camouflage in its jungle habitat. The spots vary over individual coats and between individual Jaguars: rosettes may include one or several dots, and the shape of the dots varies. The spots on the head and neck are generally solid, as are those on the tail, where they may merge to form a band. The underbelly, throat and outer surface of the legs and lower flanks are white. of jaguars in their South American range have been reported to possess it—and is the result of a dominant allele. Jaguars with melanism appear entirely black, although their spots are still visible on close examination. Melanistic Jaguars are informally known as black panthers, but do not form a separate species. Rare albino individuals, sometimes called white panthers, occur among jaguars, as with the other big cats.

Reproduction and life cycle

Jaguar females reach sexual maturity at about two years of age, and males at three or four. The cat is believed to mate throughout the year in the wild, although births may increase when prey is plentiful. Research on captive male jaguars supports the year-round mating hypothesis, with no seasonal variation in semen traits and ejaculatory quality; low reproductive success has also been observed in captivity. Female estrous is 6–17 days out of a full 37-day cycle, and females will advertise fertility with urinary scent marks and increased vocalization.
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. Young males are at first nomadic, jostling with their older counterparts until they succeed in claiming a territory. Typical lifespan in the wild is estimated at around 12–15 years; in captivity, the jaguar lives up to 23 years, placing it among the longest-lived cats. Scrape marks, urine, and feces are used to mark territory.
Like the other big cats, the jaguar is capable of roaring (the male more powerfully) and does so to warn territorial and mating competitors away; intensive bouts of counter-calling between individuals have been observed in the wild. Their roar often resembles a repetitive cough, and they may also vocalize mews and grunts. While the jaguar employs the deep-throat bite-and-suffocation technique typical among Panthera, it prefers a killing method unique amongst cats: it pierces directly through the temporal bones of the skull between the ears of prey (especially the Capybara) with its canine teeth, piercing the brain. This may be an adaptation to "cracking open" turtle shells; following the late Pleistocene extinctions, armoured reptiles such as turtles would have formed an abundant prey base for the jaguar. For captive animals in the 50–60 kilogram range, more than 2 kilograms of meat daily is recommended. In the wild, consumption is naturally more erratic; wild cats expend considerable energy in the capture and kill of prey, and may consume up to 25 kilograms of meat at one feeding, followed by periods of famine.


Distribution and habitat

The jaguar has been attested in the fossil record for two million years The countries included in this range are Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica (particularly on the Osa Peninsula), Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The jaguar is now extinct in El Salvador and Uruguay.
In Central and South America, the jaguar has long been a symbol of power and strength. The Chavín cult of the jaguar became accepted over most of what is today Peru by 900 BC. Concurrent with Chavin, the Olmec, the progenitor culture of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, developed a distinct "were-jaguar" motif of sculptures and figurines showing stylized jaguars or humans with jaguar characteristics. The Moche culture of Northern Peru used the jaguar as a symbol of power in many of their ceramics. In the later Maya civilization, the jaguar was believed to facilitate communication between the living and the dead and to protect the royal household. The Maya saw these powerful felines as their companions in the spiritual world, and kings were typically given a royal name incorporating the word jaguar. The Aztec civilization shared this image of the jaguar as the representative of the ruler and as a warrior. The Aztecs formed an elite warrior class known as the Jaguar Knights. In Aztec mythology, the jaguar was considered to be the totem animal of the powerful deity Tezcatlipoca.

Contemporary culture

The jaguar is widely used as a symbol in contemporary culture. It is the national animal of Guyana, and is featured in its coat of arms. It is widely used as a product name, most prominently for a luxury car brand. The name has been adopted by sports franchises, including NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and the Mexican national soccer league team the Jaguares de Chiapas. The crest of Argentina's national federation in rugby union features a jaguar; however, because of a historic accident, the country's national team is nicknamed Los Pumas.
jaguar in Guarani: Jaguarete
jaguar in Aymara: Jach'a titi
jaguar in Azerbaijani: Yaquar
jaguar in Bengali: জাগুয়ার
jaguar in Bulgarian: Ягуар
jaguar in Catalan: Jaguar
jaguar in Czech: Jaguár
jaguar in Danish: Jaguar (dyr)
jaguar in German: Jaguar
jaguar in Estonian: Jaaguar
jaguar in Spanish: Panthera onca
jaguar in Esperanto: Jaguaro
jaguar in Persian: جگوار
jaguar in French: Jaguar
jaguar in Korean: 재규어
jaguar in Croatian: Jaguar
jaguar in Ido: Jaguaro
jaguar in Italian: Panthera onca
jaguar in Hebrew: יגואר
jaguar in Latin: Onca
jaguar in Lithuanian: Jaguaras
jaguar in Hungarian: Jaguár
jaguar in Dutch: Jaguar
jaguar in Japanese: ジャガー
jaguar in Norwegian: Jaguar
jaguar in Norwegian Nynorsk: Jaguar
jaguar in Occitan (post 1500): Onça (felin)
jaguar in Polish: Jaguar
jaguar in Portuguese: Onça-pintada
jaguar in Quechua: Uturunku
jaguar in Russian: Ягуар
jaguar in Simple English: Jaguar
jaguar in Slovak: Jaguár americký
jaguar in Slovenian: Jaguar
jaguar in Serbian: Јагуар
jaguar in Finnish: Jaguaari
jaguar in Swedish: Jaguar
jaguar in Thai: เสือจากัวร์
jaguar in Vietnamese: Báo đốm Mỹ
jaguar in Turkish: Jaguar
jaguar in Ukrainian: Ягуар
jaguar in Contenese: 美洲豹
jaguar in Chinese: 美洲豹

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Dalmatian, Leo, Siberian tiger, antigorite, bobcat, butterfly, candy cane, cat-a-mountain, catamount, chameleon, cheetah, chrysotile, confetti, cougar, crazy quilt, firedog, harlequin, iris, leopard, lion, lynx, mackerel, mackerel sky, marble, marbled paper, moire, mother-of-pearl, mountain lion, nacre, ocelot, opal, ophite, painter, panther, patchwork quilt, peacock, puma, rainbow, serpentine, serpentine marble, shot silk, simba, spectrum, tiger, tortoise shell, wildcat, zebra
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