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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Order Carnivora : Family Felidae : Panthera onca Linnaeus

Jaguar (Panthera onca).  Photo by Lowell Nash.Description. Largest of the spotted American cats; form robust; tail relatively short and tapering; ears small, short, and rounded, without tufts; pelage short and rather bristly; upperparts spotted at all ages; ground color buffy to tan, spots blackish, often with light-colored centers; underparts and inner surfaces of legs white, heavily spotted with black; tail with irregular black markings. Dental formula as in the mountain lion, but canines relatively smaller. External measurements of an adult male: total length, 1,933 mm; tail, 533 mm; female, 1,574-432 mm; height at shoulder of a large male, 712 mm. Weight, up to 90 kg; one male from Texas weighed 63.6 kg; another, 42 kg.

Distribution in Texas. The jaguar inhabits the dense chaparral and timbered sections of the New World tropics and seldom ventures into the high, cooler inland areas. Apparently, it was once fairly common over southern Texas and nearly the whole of the eastern part of the state to Louisiana and north to the Red River. The last verified records of the jaguar in Texas are from near the turn of the century and this beautiful cat is now extirpated from the state. The jaguar is listed as "endangered" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Habits. Jaguars are the third largest cat of the world, ranking behind the tiger and African lion. In spite of their large size and powerful build, however, jaguars (el tigre of the Mexicans) are shy and retiring. They seldom, if ever, attack man unless cornered or at bay. They are thought to roam over a large territory, much as does the mountain lion, and nowhere are they abundant.

Their food habits are not well-known. In Mexico, they are known to prey on peccaries; many of the Mexicans believe that each large herd of peccaries is trailed by a jaguar so that he can feed on the stragglers. They probably prey also on deer and large ground-dwelling birds. Jaguars are reputed to be so destructive of cattle and horses that the larger Mexican ranches retain a "tiger hunter" to kill them or at least to drive them away. Jaguars are also fond of sea turtle eggs and they roam the beaches on spring nights to dig up and eat the eggs that are buried in the sand.

The den is a rocky cave or the security of a dense, thorny thicket. The mating season is in December and January, and the two to four young are born in April or May after a gestation period varying from 93 to 110 days. The kittens are covered with woolly fur, are heavily spotted at birth, and have their eyes closed. When about 6 weeks old they are as large as house cats and begin to follow their parents about. The parents mate at least for the season of parenthood, and both cooperate in rearing the young, although most of the burden falls on the mother. The family unit is maintained until the kittens are nearly a year old, at which time they begin to fend for themselves.

Photo credit: Lowell Nash.