Jaguars, ancient creatures in the present day: What you should know

Yahoo Contributor Network

Big Cat Week on Nat Geo will showcase one of the most multifaceted cats on the planet in the episode "Jaguar Ambush." Jaguars have abilities that extend far beyond most other animals, offering balance to their habitats. Jaguars are hunted for their fur and killed when they threaten livestock. Their importance to their surrounding habitats, however, means they are much more valuable alive than a fur coat could ever be. Here are some illuminating facts about jaguars.

Jaguars were referenced by the Mayans

Evidence of jaguars has been found in the fossil record from two million years ago. Also, the jaguar was referenced in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, where big cats may have been revered.

Jaguars can have melanism

Leopards can also have this condition, which causes the cats to appear more black than spotted. When a jaguar is affected by the condition, close inspection reveals that they still have the distinctive jaguar coat pattern. Melanistic jaguars and leopards are both called "black panthers."

Jaguars have the strongest cat jaws

Jaguar jaws are so strong, they can even bite through turtle shells. In fact, their jaws are actually the second strongest of all land animals. Their amazingly strong jaw muscles and canines give jaguars the unique ability to kill by biting through the skull of their prey. It's probably one of the most "humane" killers, as its bite into the temporal bones of the prey kills it instantly.

Jaguars also have a very diverse palate; they will eat everything from frogs and mice, to birds and fish, to deer and tapir. The jaguar diet is very important in the balance of their ecosystem.

Jaguars are skilled climbers and swimmers

The ability of the jaguar to climb trees so effectively allows them to catch animals such as monkeys and even birds. But unlike most other cat species, they can also swim. Of the big cats, only tigers have a similar attraction to the water. They can hunt in the trees, on the ground, and then go fishing! When the water level rises, they can also carry their prey to safety.

The jaguar is the largest cat in South America

An adult Jaguar weighs between 200 to 250 pounds. Although rare in the U.S., jaguars do live in areas such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. They can also be found in Mexico, and Central and South America. Because they have such a diverse diet, and the ability to both climb and swim, their habitat ranges from rainforests and flooded swamp areas to pampas grassland and deciduous forest.

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