jaguar (jăgˈwär) [key], large New World carnivore of the cat family, Panthera onca. Jaguars range from the SW United States to S central Argentina, though there have been no resident breeding females in the United States since 1963. They have deep yellow or tawny coats marked with black rings, or rosettes, and spots. In all individuals at least some of the rings surround spots. This feature distinguishes the jaguar from the Old World leopard, which has similar markings, but never has rosettes with internal spots. The jaguar is also shorter-limbed and stockier than the leopard. An adult male jaguar is up to 7 ft (2.2 m) long, including the 21/2-ft (76-cm) tail, stands about 21/2 ft (76 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs about 200 lb (90 kg). Although the jaguar is classified with the big cats, which can roar, it does not seem to do so, a characteristic which it shares with the snow and clouded leopards.
Jaguars are very adaptable animals. They are primarily forest dwellers but may be found on the South American pampas, or even in rocky semidesert areas of Mexico and the United States. In some regions they live an almost entirely arboreal existence for months at a time when the forest floor is flooded. They are also good swimmers and sometimes catch fish for food. Jaguars hunt deer, agouti, capybara, and especially peccaries. They are retiring animals, not particularly inclined to attack people, but a jaguar may launch an attack or even stalk a human being if threatened. In Mexico the jaguar is known as el tigre, "the tiger," although true tigers are found only in Asia. Jaguars are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Felidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.