Jaguars living in the Sonoran Desert are the largest cats native to North America, and the only representative of the Panthera genus. These strictly carnivorous animals eat up to 85 different species of prey. Since the mid-1990s, only four jaguars have been seen in Arizona and New Mexico, although approximately 10,000 jaguars exist throughout North, Central and South America. They're listed as endangered throughout their range.
Spots within the jaguar’s rosettes distinguish this cat from the similar-looking leopard. Adults are between 5 and 8 feet long and weigh between 80 and 120 pounds, with females at the lower ends of those ranges. Northern jaguars living in the Sonoran Desert region of Mexico and the southwestern United States tend to be smaller than their South American counterparts. These cats are physically adapted more for power than speed, with thick muscular bodies, broad chests and powerful jaws.
Diet and Habitat
Jaguars in general prefer moist lowland forests, but in the northern reaches of their geographical range they are found in more arid habitats. They adapt well to most environments as long as there is a nearby water source and plenty of cover. In the Sonoran Desert habitat and along the border of the United States and Mexico, jaguars feed primarily on javelina and deer. Reptiles, birds and desert bighorn sheep may also be on the menu.
While other big cats of the Panthera genus more frequently kill their prey by suffocation, the jaguar uses its strong teeth and jaws to deliver a bite to the back of the animal’s neck, piercing the base of its skull. The jaguar’s jaws are so powerful they can easily tear through the thick skin of reptiles and break apart turtle shells. Jaguars don’t often chase down their prey, preferring to conceal themselves in the underbrush and wait patiently, quietly stalking an unsuspecting animal until it's close enough to pounce upon.
Jaguars are solitary predators and travel distances of up to 500 miles. The size of their home range depends on the availability and density of prey in the area, but typically covers several hundred square miles. In part because these cats are so elusive, historically it was assumed they were primarily nocturnal. Scientists now know they are most active in the hours at dawn and dusk. They move about at all hours, but frequently rest during the hottest parts of the day, in the mid-morning and early afternoon.
Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.