Can you answer these jaguar questions?
Grab your best stuffed animal friend and a notebook to use for this week’s activities–your safari field journal–and let’s get started! If you need help answering some questions, an adult can help you look for answers online.
- Where do jaguars mainly live?
- What does this habitat look like? Draw it in your safari field journal!
- Could your stuffed animal friend live in this kind of habitat? Why or why not?
- What is one special adaptation jaguars have to help them survive in their habitat?
- What do jaguars eat? Are they carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?
- Are jaguars endangered, vulnerable, or something else? What does this mean for future populations?
It’s a lion…it’s a leopard…it’s a jaguar, or Panthera onca! Jaguars are the largest cats native to the Americas and although they’re related to lions, tigers, and leopards, they don’t live anywhere near these big cats. Their range extends from Mexico through Central and South America, including much of the rainforests known as Amazonian Brazil. Historically, jaguars once lived in the southern United States, but due to habitat loss and overhunting, only a few individual jaguars are still occasionally seen in states like Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.
The majority of a jaguar’s habitat includes dense, forested areas with high humidity and frequent rainfall. Jaguars are known as apex predators, meaning they are highest on the food chain and aren’t hunted by other animals. Because of this, scientists often call them a keystone species; because they are opportunistic hunters and prey on a variety of animals, jaguars unintentionally help keep the forests they live in from becoming overpopulated and destroyed by one specific species of animal.
Jaguars are obligate carnivores—they eat meat and only meat. While they prefer larger prey like capybaras and giant anteaters, they will hunt smaller prey if desperate for food or if they are still young and inexperienced. Like their relatives, jaguars will often stalk and catch their prey by surprise rather than chasing their prey out in the open. They are excellent swimmers and have been known to ambush animals near or in rivers or during seasonal floods.
There are several adaptations jaguars have to help them survive—one of the most important being their spots. Although similar to a leopard’s spots, jaguars have far less spots and a distinctive dot—sometimes called an “eye”—in the middle of their spots that leopards lack. These spots provide them with camouflage to hide from prey or other jaguars competing for territory. They also have short and stocky limbs which allow them to climb and swim quickly and effortlessly.
Even though jaguars are apex predators, they are still considered “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List and their populations are currently in decline. A number of factors, including habitat loss, poaching, and increasing competition with humans. However, many steps have been taken to protect these big cats, like prohibiting hunting jaguars in a number of countries including Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, the United States, and Venezuela. Large areas of open wild areas, called “Jaguar Units” have also been preserved for jaguars to live and breed safely.