The jaguar is compact and well muscled. It has short stocky limbs which enables it to be adept at climbing, swimming and crouching. It has a strong head and an extremely powerful jaw.
The base coast of the jaguar is tawny, or it can be reddish-brown, and it has irregular shaped rosette type markings over its body. These markings become solid spots on the head and neck, and they merge to form rings on its tail. The underside of the jaguar is lighter coloured.
Melanistic or black jaguars are far less common than the spotted form. They are known as panthers (as are black leopards). They appear to be entirely black, but their markings can be seen if examined closely. Darker coloured individuals tend to be found in dense forest areas as this helps them to stay hidden and lighter coloured, larger animals tend to be found in the open plains.
Jaguars are found in the forests, swamps, dry woodland and grasslands of Central and South America. They prefer dense forests with thick cover and water nearby. The highest population densities of jaguars are found in the Amazon Basin. Jaguars are solitary, apart from a mother with cubs, and they only meet to mate. They have territories between 30 and 150 kms (17 - 87 miles), the territory of the male being larger than that of the female.
After a gestation period of 91-111 days 1-4 cubs, commonly 2, are born in a den. They are born blind and helpless, gaining sight within 14 days. The cubs are weaned at 3 months old but remain in the birth den for 6 months, after which they leave to accompany their mother while she hunts. The cubs stay in the company of their mother until they are between 1 and 2 years of age after which they leave to find their own territory.
Females become sexually mature at 2 years of age while males reach sexual maturity between 3 and 4 years of ago. Jaguars mate throughout the year and after mating the pair fo their separate ways, with the female preferring to do all the parenting herself.
Jaguars are the largest cat in the Americas and have no real predators, other than humans. The Yanomami Indians named the jaguar "Eater of Souls" as they believe it consumes the spirits of the dead.