From Academic Kids
Conservation status: Lower risk
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is a large member of the cat family found primarily in the warm regions of the Americas. It is closely related to the lion, tiger, and leopard of the Old World, and is the largest and most powerful feline found in the Americas.  (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761554717/Jaguar_(animal).html)
To some, jaguars look very much like leopards, but they are sturdier and heavier. The easiest way to distinguish a jaguar from a leopard, beside the jaguar’s much more powerful build, is the rosettes. The rosettes on a jaguar’s coat are larger, fewer in number, and usually darker with thicker lines that enclose smaller spots. The head of the jaguar is much more round and it has shorter, stockier limbs. Because of this the jaguar is sometimes referred to as the “bulldog” of the cat world.  (http://www.akronzoo.org/learn/jaguar.asp) The Jaguar, in a recent National Geographic special titled “In Search of the Jaguar,” was named pound for pound the strongest animal in the world.  (http://www.aptv.org/Schedule/showinfo.asp?ID=76679&Nola1=NAGS)
Jaguars vary from 5.3 to 6 feet (1.62 to 1.83 m) in length, excluding 30 in (0.76 m) tail, stand around 67 to 76 cm (27 to 30 inches) tall at the shoulder, and weigh between 56 and 96 kg (124 and 211 lb) with larger individuals, recorded by scientists, weighing between 131 and 151 kg (288 to 333 lb). Females are typically twenty percent smaller than males.  (http://savethejaguar.com/jag-index/jag-allabout/jag-aboutecology) Jaguars in southern Mexico and Central America are typically smaller, 56 kg and 40 kg (123 lb and 90 lb) for males and females respectively. The jaguar has the strongest jaw structure of any feline and second strongest jaw structure of any land carnivore.  (http://www.cptigers.org/animals/species.asp?speciesID=3) Relative to size the amount of force exerted by a jaguar's bite is unmatched by other feline. Captive jaguars have been documented putting 1/4 inch (6 mm) dents into bowling balls using their teeth. "They are powerful enough to drag an 800-pound bull 25 feet in its jaws and pulverize the heaviest bones."  (http://magazine.audubon.org/features0408/belize.html)
The jaguar's habitat ranges from the rain forests of South and Central America to marshy and even desert terrain in Mexico, but they are rarely seen in mountainous regions. The jaguar's wide range means that it should not be in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future. The species has declined numbers in some areas due to habitat loss, especially in rain forests and grassland turned into cropland and hunting for their pelts.
Known for their strong swimming abilities, the jaguar is one of the few cats besides tigers that enjoy water. They often prefer to live by rivers, swamps, and in dense forest with thick cover for stalking prey. They are the largest carnivore in the Western Hemisphere. Jaguars, on rare occasions, are seen as far north as the southwestern United States, particularly in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In the early 1900s, the jaguars' range actually extended as far north as southern California and western Texas. As recently as 2004, wildlife officials in Arizona have photographed and documented jaguars in the southern parts of the state. Presently it is unclear whether recent sightings indicate whether there is a permanent population developing in the Southwest or that these cats are simply transients straying over the border from Sonora, Mexico. However, jaguars are a protected species in the United States under the Endangered Species Act and are considered nongame, therefor making it illegal to shoot a jaguar for its pelt. Fossils of jaguars from as far north as Missouri confirm these cats inhabited much of the Southern U.S. during prehistoric times. These prehistoric jaguars were signifigantly larger than the jaguars of today.
Jaguars are hunters that do not work with one another outside the breeding season. They hunt around 85 different species including: deer, tapirs, peccaries, and even caiman, up to a certain size. They are opportunists and will take anything from frogs, mice, birds, fish, to domestic livestock. A jaguar's bite can pierce the shell of a turtle (Emmons, 1987). Jaguars are considered a stalk and ambush predator and are not meant to run over long distances but prefer to surprise unsuspecting prey.
The jaguar uses a different killing method from most cats to kill its prey. Instead of biting the neck, to suffocate or sever the spinal cord, the jaguar delivers a fatal bite directly to the skull, piercing the brain. It is because of this killing technique that jaguars often break teeth as they progress in age. Jaguar eat up to 10-70 pounds of food.
Young jaguar males reach sexual maturity at about three to four years of age, with females reaching maturity about a year earlier than males. Females give birth to as many as four cubs after a 90 to 110 day gestation, but raise no more than two of them to adulthood. The young are born blind and can see after two weeks. They remain with their mother for up to two years before leaving to establish a territory for themselves, which can be anywhere between 25 and 150 square kilometers in size (depending on the availability of suitable prey). Typical lifespan is 10 or 11 years in the wild; in captivity, jaguars have lived up to 20 years.
The jaguar in Central and South American culture
- See also: Jaguars in Mesoamerican culture
The word jaguar comes from the South American Tupi-Guarani language. According to one early European explorer, jaguara meant "a beast that kills its prey with one bound." The original and complete indigenous name for the species is Jaguarete. Curiously, Jagua means "dog" in Guarani. Jaguar is also a royal title bestowed to a royal prince, princess or ruling monarch in some Maya traditions such as that of the Lencas.
People in Central and South America see the jaguar as a symbol of power and strength. During Mayan civilization, the jaguar was believed to communicate between the living and the dead, as well as protect the royal household. The Maya saw these powerful felines as their companions in the spiritual world. The Aztec civilization also had the same 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.
The background of the coat is usually an orange-yellow in colour, with numerous rings or rosettes on the flanks and spots on the head and neck. A condition known as melanism occasionally occurs and can create jaguars that appear entirely black (although the spots are still visible if one looks closely). These are known as black panthers, but do not form a separate species.
Jaguars are occasionally mated with other big cats such as the lion, tiger and leopard. These hybridizations are usually carried out in controlled environments. For more information hybrid cats see Panthera hybrid.