The Deadly Hunting Habits of the Jaguar
Posted: Apr 27, 2016
As one of the most powerful apex predators in the world, Panthera onca, the Jaguar, has no known predator – except, on occasion, man. Almost entirely carnivorous (they've been known to consume the roots of some indigenous South American plants), they feed on anything they can catch, including frogs, fish, snakes, monkeys, crocodiles, deer, sloths, Caiman, Tapirs, Capybara, turtles, anacondas and peccaries. They fear nothing and nothing gets in their way – including water and heights.
Through the use of camera traps and on-the-ground research, scientists observing Jaguars have been able to build a fairly comprehensive picture of the hunting habits of this awesome and fearsome big cat.
Top of the Food Chain
From a position at the top of the food chain, researchers' data from observing Jaguars has established it as a 'keystone species', denoting its importance in terms of its role in maintaining the status quo of its environment. As a prolific hunter of smaller prey animals, it plays a vital role in regulating the balance of the entire ecosystem.
Panthera onca is a deadly killing machine, and it's virtually unstoppable once focused on a target. A classic 'stalk and ambush' hunter, the big cat will track its unsuspecting prey on the ground through cover and open land, from above in trees, and even in the water.
While often classed as nocturnal, in fact, they are more correctly crepuscular, as their prime hunting times are around dawn and dusk. While preferring to hunt in dense forests and around bodies of water, they're not averse to heading out into the savannah or close to human habitations on ranches or farms within their range. They have plenty of patience and will painstakingly stalk a food source before pouncing from cover – it's usually all over before the hapless prey even knows what hit it.
- and Deadly Accuracy
The big cat employs a unique and deadly accurate method of killing, by pouncing on its prey and delivering a fatal bite between its ears, straight through the temporal bones of the skill to pierce the brain with its canine teeth. Its incredibly strong bite even allows it to penetrate the tough shell of a turtle.
When hunting Caiman, or other reptiles, in land or on the water, the big cat may first leap onto the back of the prey and paralyse it with a bite that severs the spinal cord, before finishing it off. They also sometimes use the more common suffocation and deep-throat bite method of killing and, for smaller animals, may sometimes deliver a fatal blow with a swipe of a mighty paw.
They don't like to dine in public and will drag a carcass long distances, if necessary, to consume under the cover of dense forest. The heart and lungs of the prey are usually eaten first, rather than the midsection, which is common practice with many other predators. They eat large amounts of flesh at a time as they often endure long periods of fasting in between kills. Silent, secretive, and one of the stealthiest killing machines on Earth, it's only by using techniques like camera trapping that researchers observing Jaguars have been able to accumulate data on this elusive predator's hunting habits.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in observing Jaguars in Central and Southern America. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
Writer and Online Marketing Manager in London.