A few different jaguars have found fame on YouTube over the last few years: In 2013, a National Geographic video of one of the cats taking down an unsuspecting crocodile went viral. And a year later, 4.5 million viewers watched some spectacular footage of one swimming like a champion. But these cats deserve more than just 15 seconds of fame. Here are 10 incredible facts about jaguars that might help you properly appreciate the next hit video.
1. ONLY ONE OR TWO WILD JAGUARS NOW LIVE IN THE UNITED STATES (AS FAR AS WE KNOW).
These big cats used to have an enormous geographic range, stretching from Argentina to the southwestern United States. In centuries gone by, jaguars were among the top predators in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and southern California. Overhunting, habitat loss, and armed livestock owners completely wiped out the local population in at least three of those states. In 2011, a male was photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson, Arizona. Nicknamed El Jefe (Spanish for “the boss”), this cat quickly became a minor celebrity because at the time, no other wild jaguar specimens were known to reside anywhere in the U.S. Then, in 2016, a trail camera in Fort Huachua, Arizona took some snapshots of what looks like a different male. “We are examining photographic evidence to determine if we’re seeing a new cat here, or if this is an animal that has been seen in Arizona before,” Jim deVos, a member of the state’s Game and Fish department, told the press. While there’s not yet an official verdict on whether it’s El Jefe or there’s a new cat in town, you can compare these photos and draw your own conclusions.
2. JAGUARS HAVE DISPROPORTIONATELY STRONG BITES.
“Pound for pound, jaguars pack a stronger punch” than a lion or tiger, says biologist Adam Hardstone-Rose. Back in 2012, Hardstone-Rose co-authored a study that compared the standard bite forces of nine cat species. The data showed that, in terms of sheer power, jaguars can’t compete with tigers, who exert 25 percent more force when chomping down. But proportionately speaking, the smaller felines wield the most powerful bite of any big cat. “The strength of [its] jaw muscles, relative to weight, are slightly stronger than those of other cats. In addition—also relative to weight—its jaws are slightly shorter, which increases the leverage for biting,” Hardstone-Rose explains.
3. THIS MAKES THEM BRUTALLY EFFECTIVE KILLING MACHINES.
Jaguars aren’t finicky. They’ll eat just about any animal they can overpower. Fish, birds, deer, armadillos, peccaries, porcupines, tapirs, capybaras, anacondas, caimans, and nesting sea turtles are just a few of the jaguar’s dinner options. Armadillos, caimans, and sea turtles are all heavily armored creatures whose hides are tough enough to repel most would-be predators, but jaguars aren’t daunted: They know where to bite down. Some big cats, like lions, tend to kill by suffocation, biting the windpipe area of the victim’s neck until it asphyxiates. Jaguars take a different approach. When one of these spotted felines goes in for the kill, it generally delivers a swift, powerful bite to the back of target’s head right where the skull meets the spinal cord. With crushing force, the jaguar’s teeth are driven into the neck vertebrae. If all goes well, the bite will efficiently incapacitate the prey animal.
4. JAGUARS WILL TAKE ON BEARS.
To quote Sir David Attenborough, the jaguar is “a killer of killers,” hunting some pretty dangerous game. Consider El Jefe, who has eaten at least one bear. Last year, wildlife biologist Chris Bugbee was leading Mayke,…