If you’ve ever been to any of the eight countries that make up the Amazon rainforest, you may have had the benefit of seeing a jaguar in person—from the safety of a guide truck, of course.
Jaguars are apex predators, which means their diet is made up of a range of animals both big and small. Several factors influence a jaguar’s diet, such as its habitat, age, and size.
I was interested in learning about what jaguars eat, so I did a lot of research online, and then I thought it would be a good idea to write this article to condense what I learned so others wouldn’t have to do as much research as I did.
If you’ve recently asked “what do jaguars eat,” then this article is for you. Let’s begin!
Table of Contents
1. What Are the Physical Characteristics of Jaguars?
Jaguars are the largest cat in North, South, and Central America, and they’re the third-largest cat in the world. They can be anywhere from 5 to 8 feet in length and weigh between 140 and 300 pounds.
Most jaguars have brownish-yellow fur that is speckled with dark rosettes. And unlike leopards, jaguars have marks in the centers of these rosettes. They are stocky cats with short limbs and large paws, three other features that also distinguish them from leopards.
Over time, jaguars have evolved and developed a protective coat that gives them camouflage in the dense rainforest. This camouflage helps immensely when it comes time to hunt.
Usually, a jaguar’s rosettes are only visible in the sunshine, and while many mistakes some rarer jaguars for being black, they are actually dark brown.
2. What’s a Jaguar’s Nature?
As apex predators, jaguars play an important role in their environment, as they control the populations of other species and help with balancing the food chain so the habitat overall remains in a sustainable state.
But despite being apex predators, jaguars are a threatened species, which in part explains why they are often elusive and solitary. Experts say a jaguar will spend 50 to 60% of its daily activities, i.e. hunting in the dense jungle.
However, they also spend a large portion of their day napping on branches in the shade, as being out of the sunshine keeps them cool and helps ensure their safety. A jaguar will often sleep near a slow-moving river or another water source, as they’re excellent swimmers.
3. Jaguars’ Distribution, Habitat & Life Span?
Jaguars can be found in both Central America and South America, though they’re more common in the Amazon rainforest. They prefer to live in scrubland, swamps, coastal mangroves, river valleys, and grasslands.
Being close to water not only provides a jaguar with a source to drink from but also opportunities to hunt unsuspecting prey.
Originally these creatures lived in North America, but they migrated to Central and South America, and now there are no jaguars north of Mexico. They used to populate Southern California up to Monterey Bay.
Jaguars usually live 12 to 16 years, but jaguars that are in close proximity to humans may not enjoy a long life because of poaching and other activities like deforestation.
4. What Do Jaguars Eat?
A jaguar’s diet is largely influenced by its habitat. Therefore, a wild jaguar will not have the same diet as a jaguar that’s in captivity. Plus, a jaguar’s diet is influenced by its age and size, meaning a baby jaguar will (for the most part) have a diet that’s different than the adult’s.
A jaguar is an opportunistic hunter, meaning it will eat virtually anything it comes across. However, they aren’t omnivores—they’re strictly carnivorous cats.
They may be big and muscular but they can be quite stealthy when on the hunt, and they can easily tear apart a living creature whether it’s a bird, mammal, or reptile. However, they mostly eat:
They usually hunt animals that are weak and small, as they can ambush and incapacitate these animals easily. Jaguars hunt both day and night in the wild, and they can roam up to 10 km (6 miles) while hunting.
Even though they mainly hunt small animals, they can take on other predators and large animals when there’s no other food around. After all, a big caiman could be a meal for days.
Jaguars in captivity are often fed a diet that resembles what they would eat in the wild, but they don’t have access to a wide range of organisms like they would if they were out roaming free in the Amazon.
Captive jaguars eat the meat that is available in captivity, and often this meat is meat that they’d be consuming in the wild. They’re also fed fish, eggs, large bones, and the occasional thawed rabbit while in captivity.
Some jaguars are fed food that is artificially enriched with vitamins and nutrients, and they would not get such food in the wild.
Baby jaguars in the wild do not eat the larger prey adult jaguars consume. Instead, baby jaguars usually eat smaller mammals, fish, crayfish, turtles, and small caimans. They also eat baby deer, iguanas, and birds.
In captivity, baby jaguars are fed fish and a range of meats. They often eat meats from animals they wouldn’t be able to hunt successfully at their age. Jaguars will nurse their cubs until they’re three to five months old, and when they’re two-weeks-old baby jaguars consume regurgitated food.
Do Jaguars Change Their Diet by the Season?
Jaguars do not migrate on a seasonal basis. Year-round males are setting up new territories and reclaiming lost ones. While this happens, females are dispersing over a smaller area.
Like wolves, jaguars travel hundreds of miles and focus on areas with a lot of prey. Some jaguars can have a territory that covers hundreds of miles.
In the winter, jaguars do not hibernate. They can adapt to harsh weather conditions. And because they don’t migrate, they’re sometimes forced to hunt where there isn’t a lot of prey.
Jaguars are especially affected by deforestation, which is a big reason why they’re becoming more and more endangered.
5. How Much and How Often Do Jaguars Eat?
A jaguar will eat every day, and they usually eat about 50 pounds of meat in a day. But if a jaguar has access to a wide range of prey, it won’t eat so much in a single day. And if a jaguar catches a big deer, for example, it will drag the prey to a tree or hide it and then eat it over a period of time.
Jaguars start eating at the neck of the prey and then move their way down, which is unlike what other cats do. Adults eat more meat on a daily basis than babies and young jaguars, but the amount of food one eats on a day-to-day basis increases significantly between the ages of three and four.
6. What Not to Feed the Jaguars
In captivity, a zookeeper won’t feed a jaguar anything that has plants in it, as jaguars don’t eat these. In captivity, a young jaguar can be trained to eat meat that it wouldn’t eat in its natural habitat.
I’m sure numerous jaguars have consumed “people food” over the years, but jaguars shouldn’t eat food meant for humans as it messes with their digestive system.
Jaguars are majestic big cats sadly on the endangered species list because they’re losing their habitats and getting poached.
These apex predators roam throughout Central and South America, and as far as hunting skills are concerned, theirs are some of the best in the feline family.
When it comes to diet, a jaguar will pretty much eat anything that has the misfortune of running into it, as in their habitat they can’t be challenged.
Summer equates a jaguar walking along a riverbank to a human walking alongside a buffet line—there’s just so much food to choose from!
1. Do jaguars eat crocodiles?
While jaguars don’t eat crocodiles because they aren’t found in a jaguar’s natural habitat, a jaguar will eat caiman. Jaguars have excellent swimming and hunting skills in and around water, and caiman is easy prey for them.
Check out this video on National Geographic of a jaguar stocking and eventually taking down an unsuspecting caiman.
2. What eats a jaguar in the rainforest?
In the wild, jaguars have no natural predators. The only predator a jaguar will face is a human that’s hunting it for its fur. Sadly, jaguars have been poached to near extinction.
3. Do jaguars just eat meat?
Jaguars are carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. They’ll hunt domestic livestock if there isn’t enough food for them in their natural habitat.
Even though they are opportunistic hunters, this doesn’t mean they would ever settle for eating plants. They’ll eat the smallest rodent if they have to do so to survive.