Cougar Vs. Jaguar: What Are the Differences?

puma vs mountain lion
© Kwadrat/

Written by Niccoy Walker

Updated: April 24, 2023

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Big cats can often look similar, share the same ranges, and exhibit similar behavior, which makes it difficult to tell them apart. And with felids, there are many blanket and generic terms used to describe them. Did you know that cougars can also be called mountain lions? And that jaguars are considered panthers? Yeah, it gets confusing. But what is the difference between the cougar vs. jaguar? Discover the answer now!

Comparing Cougar Vs. Jaguar

LocationCanada down to the southern tip of South AmericaSouthern United States down to South America
HabitatForests, mountains, deserts, and open areasDense forests, particularly tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests, rainforests, and cloud forests.
Fur color and patternPlain tawny color with whitish undersides; no patternsPale to reddish-yellow coats, white undersides, and large, black rosettes
Size and WeightThey can measure over seven feet long and weigh up to 230 poundsThey can measure over six feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds
Jaguars belong to the panther genus, while cougars belong to the puma genus.

The Main Differences Between Cougar Vs Jaguar

The biggest difference between a cougar and a jaguar is that they come from different genera. The cougar belongs to the puma genus, while jaguars are from the Panthera genus. However, both belong to the Felidae family. 

Mountain lion on a rock

Cougars (above) are slender and agile, while jaguars are compact and muscular.

©Holly Kuchera/

Body Structure and Size

Cougar: Slender and agile, the cougar is the fourth-largest cat in the world. They can measure over seven feet long and weigh up to 230 pounds. And they have round heads, erect ears, and erectile claws. The cougar has powerful forequarters and necks, and their larger front teeth are adapted for clutching prey.

Jaguar: Jaguars are the third-largest cats in the world and the largest in the Americas. They are compact and muscular, with stockier limbs and square heads. And they have exceptionally powerful jaws, with the third-highest bite force in the Felid family. The largest individuals within the species can reach over six feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds. 

Difference: Jaguars are stockier and more muscular than cougars. Cougars can grow longer, but they don’t weigh as much and are not as powerful. The jaguar has a higher bite force.


The Jaguar (above) features black spots called rosettes, rose-like markings with spots in the middle.

©George Arenas/

Fur Color and Pattern

Cougar: This species is plain with no patterns. The average coat color is tawny (light brown to beige) with whitish underparts, but they can have variations ranging from gray to rusty red. A pure white variation has been recorded but is extremely rare.

Jaguar: The jaguar can have a pale, tan, or reddish-yellow coat with a whitish undercoat. They have black spots called rosettes, rose-like markings with spots on the inside. Melanistic variations exist and are common within certain habitats in their range.

Difference: The fur color and pattern are one of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a cougar and a jaguar. Cougars have plain coats with no markings, and jaguars have large rosettes covering their bodies.

Mountain lion stares into camera

Mountain lions

are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to survive. They feed primarily on ungulates.


Behavior and Diet

Cougar: They are nocturnal and crepuscular ambush predators that eat a wide variety of prey. Cougars stalk their prey in dense underbrush and rocky areas. And they primarily feed on ungulates, like deer, elk, moose, goats, and sheep. Black bears are typically the apex predators in their range, heavily scavenging on cougar kills.

Jaguar: These cats are solitary, opportunistic ambush predators. They are also crepuscular and excellent swimmers, hunting and playing in the water. Jaguars have a varied diet consisting of marsh deer, anteaters, capybaras, turtles, collared peccary, and black agouti. They are apex predators in their range.

Difference: Jaguars are apex predators, while cougars are not. And cougars primarily eat ungulates, while jaguars have a very diverse diet, eating more reptiles than any other big cat.

Strongest cats - Jaguar

Jaguars live in dense forests primarily in Central and South America.


Location and Habitat

Cougar: They have a large range, stretching from Canada down to the southern tip of South America. However, they are typically absent from most of the Eastern United States. They thrive in a variety of habitats, including all forest types, mountains, deserts, and open areas.

Jaguar: They range from the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico down to most of South America. Jaguars inhabit dense forests, particularly tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests, rainforests, and cloud forests.

Difference: Cougars have a longer range in the Americas and a more diverse habitat selection. Jaguars prefer dense, moist forests.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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