Society

Jaguars are some cool cats

SHAWN WALTON
You don’t see jaguars everyday in Milam county. The last sighting of a jaguar anywhere in Texas was sometime in the early 1900s. However, the fact that Texas was once home to the third largest cat in the world has such a coolness factor about it; I decided to find out more about them.

Jaguars still roam Mexico, down into South America. They are a federally endangered species in the U.S., and considered a threatened species elsewhere due to habitat loss and the shotgun, which man uses to control their proclivity to dine on horses and cattle. Jaguars have been extirpated from Texas, meaning they have been removed from their native range in the state. Good news for Arizona, though, because in 2009 a jaguar was caught and radio-collared before being released. Authorities believe a permanent breeding population of jaguars may actually live in southern Arizona.

Jaguars live in varying habitat, from tropical to oak forests. They prefer living near water, and they like to swim. The jaguar is one of the four big cats that roar. The jaguar’s roar sounds like a repetitive cough. The other three big cats that roar are the lion, tiger, and leopard. Notice that leopard and jaguar are two different species. They are often confused, as they both have spots. The jaguar, however, is larger and more muscular.

Males can grow as long as seven feet, as tall as three feet at the shoulder, and weigh up to three hundred pounds. The stocky build of the jaguar, with shorter legs and tail, makes it an excellent climber and swimmer. Jaguars have a tan colored hide on top with brown spots bordered in black. They are white underneath with all black spots.

Black jaguars do exist. Most of us call them “black panthers”. The black color is due to a condition called “melanism”, which gives their coat the black color. However, up close you can still see the spots. Males mark a territory that normally includes three females. They defend it against other males, usually with aggressive behavior. They fight only if necessary.

The cats will mate throughout the year when prey is plentiful. However, mating season is December and January. The female gives birth to up to four cubs, which stay with their mother for a year. The average life span of a jaguar is twelve to fifteen years. Jaguars are apex predators, meaning humans are their only predator. They are also a keystone species, as they control the population of their prey. Jaguars hunt at dawn or dusk. They only eat meat, and will prey on many kinds of animals. Their name comes from the South American Indian word “yaguara”, which means “beast that kills its prey with one bound”. They are a stalk-and-ambush predator, pouncing from cover onto the victim’s blind side.

They do not kill by biting the neck, like most cats, but bite through the skull. Their bite is exceptionally strong, with up to 2,000 pounds of force, enabling them to bite through turtle shells. The only animal with a stronger bite is the spotted hyena. This jaw strength allows the jaguar, a solitary hunter, to take down prey weighing up to 660 pounds. It can then haul the kill up a tree to stash it.

Jaguars also fish. They slap the water with their tails to attract the fish. When the fish swims to the surface, the cat spears it with its claws. The Mayans believed the jaguar to be spirit companions. The Aztecs used the jaguar to represent a ruler or warrior. They had an elite warrior class known as the Jaguar Knights.

walton.shawn@gmail.com


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2010-10-21 digital edition



The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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