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Jaguar (Panthera onca) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

AttributeMale & Female
Body Weight 57-113 kg (126-249 lb)
Body Length 112-185 cm (3.7-6.1 ft)
Tail Length 45-75cm (1.5-2.5 ft)

General Appearance

Body shape

  • Body robust
    • Largest extant (living) cat of the Americas
      • Extinct North American cats, Smilodon and Megantereon, were larger
    • Size variation
      • Smaller in equatorial regions and in dense forests, larger north and south of equator
      • Likely influenced by the size of available prey
    • Similar to leopards though larger
      • Chest more deep
      • Head more broad
      • Paws larger
      • Tail shorter
    • Heaviest cat that climbs well
  • Limbs
    • Relatively short
      • shortest fore- and hind-limbs relative to body size of all pantherine cats
    • Hindlimbs more narrowly set than forelimbs
  • Feet and claws
    • Retractile claw on each digit

Facial characteristics

  • Head
    • Massive
      • Circumference usually greater than height at shoulder
    • Sagittal crest (midline ridge) in males and older individuals
  • Eyes
    • Color of iris golden to reddish yellow
    • Pupil round
  • Canine teeth
    • Lower canines relatively larger than in other pantherines
    • Powerful bite; more powerful than in other large cats

Adult pelage

  • Coat pattern highly variable
    • Background pale yellow to tan to reddish yellow
    • Some individuals with much smaller rosettes or without spot
    • Melanistic individuals common
      • Nearly all black; spots barely visible
      • Results from a dominant gene variant
      • Trait more common than in other large cats, except for leopards
      • Term "black panther" applies to melanistic jaguars, leopards, and pumas
  • Spotted with dark rosettes
    • All ages with spots
      • Young with adult pattern by c. 7 months of age
    • "Butterfly" patterned
      • Circular black markings in rosettes enclosing one or more small spots
    • Spot structure used to distinguish jaguars from the leopard and cheetah
      • Leopards lack smaller dark spots in the center of each rosette
      • Cheetah with solid black spots; background color not visible at center
  • Tail
    • 2-3 black rings
    • Ending with a black tip
  • Ventral body whitish
    • Throat, belly, and insides of limbs
    • Tail white underneath

Sexual Dimorphism

Dimorphic in size

  • Males larger than females
    • Females usually 10 to 20% smaller

Other Characteristics

Prints

  • Appearance
    • Unlike that of a puma
    • Heel pad of jaguar
      • Larger; wider and more rounded than that of a puma, with pronounced lobes at the base
      • Pad extends forward to base of toes (compact, "filled in" appearance)
    • Toes of jaguar
      • Proportionally larger and more rounded than those of a puma
    • Print of hind-feet fall inside those of the front feet on the overstep
  • Size
    • Width c. 12.1 cm (4.76 in)

Comparison of Spotted Cats

Jaguar coat

Leopard coat

cheetah coat

 

Jaguar are one of several spotted cats.

The spots, known as rosettes, of jaguars are distinguished by a black, interrupted outer ring; the background coat color lies at the center of each spot, which may also contain one or more solid black dots. Compare the spots of a jaguar (top image) with those of a leopard (center) and a cheetah (bottom).

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Childs (1998)
Hoogesteijn et al. (1993; 1996)
Murie (1975)
Seymour (1989)
Turner (1997)
Wroe et al. (2004)

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