Types of Jaguar Cats

Written by Abby Parks
Updated: September 26, 2022
Image Credit GoWildPhotography/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points:
  • There is only one species of jaguar, though scientists originally classified them into 9 subspecies. There are four specific regional types of jaguars with geographic differences only.
  • Jaguars are usually larger and more muscular than leopards, and have rounder, wider heads and smaller ears than leopards.
  • Both leopards and jaguars that are black are referred to as black panthers. Both species can develop a condition called melanism, which is an increase in the dark pigmentation of their fur.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) are among the most elusive, rare big cats of the jungle. These beautiful wild cats have long been prized as important cultural symbols of power and courage. They were also highly prized for their gorgeous spotted fur. Read on to learn the facts about jaguars and how they compare to other wild cats.

The word jaguar comes from the Mesoamerican word “yaguar,” which means, “to kill with one leap.” It’s a fitting name for this fast, powerful cat that is an apex predator in its environment. The jaguar is the third-largest big cat in the world after the tiger and the lion. It is the only living member of the Panthera family that is native to the Americas.

Are There Different Types of Jaguars?

No, there is only one species or type of jaguar.

The jaguar’s scientific name is Panthera onca. Originally, biologists classed jaguars into nine subspecies and gave each its own scientific name:

  • Panthera onca
  • Pantera onca arizonensis
  • Pantera onca centralis
  • Pantera onca goldmani
  • Pantera onca hernandesii
  • Pantera onca palustris
  • Pantera onca paraguensis
  • Pantera onca peruviana
  • Pantera onca veracrucis

In 2017, however, this identification changed. The Felidae taxonomy was revised to classify the jaguar as a monotype with no subspecies.

Biologists have named four specific regional groups of jaguars, and the jaguars in these groups differ slightly in size and appearance from each other. These are geographic differences only. These are not different types of jaguars, and they don’t have separate scientific names.

The four regions are:

Within the four regions where jaguars live, the climate is tropical. Their habitats include lakes, inland wetlands and rivers. Half of all jaguars dwell in Brazil, and the rest are found in countries that the Amazon Rainforest passes through. In the past, jaguars could be found in the Southwestern United States, but due to habitat loss, that is no longer the case.

Are Leopards a Type of Jaguar?

Types of Jaguar cats - leopard
A wild African leopard looking down from a branch of a tree. Although leopards and jaguars look very similar, a leopard is not a type of jaguar.

iStock.com/lightstock

Leopards and jaguars look very similar. They share the same spotted appearance, large size, and ability to leap. They are related. Both are members of the Panthera family, but they are separate species.

How do you tell them apart? Identification is simple if you remember that a jaguar is usually larger and more muscular than a leopard. The jaguar also has a rounder, wider head, and smaller ears than a leopard.

They live in different regions. Leopards live in Africa, where they compete for food with lions, hyenas, and other predators. Jaguars are jungle cats who mostly live in the rainforests and jungles of Central and South America. The jaguar is an apex predator who has no real competition for prey.

Are There Black Jaguars?

Types of Jaguar - black panther
A black panther is a type of jaguar with a melanism condition.

AB Photographie/Shutterstock.com

There are, but we call them black panthers. It’s a little confusing because black leopards are also called black panthers.

Here’s why. Both jaguars and their leopard cousins can develop a coloration called melanism. This is an increase in the dark pigmentation of their fur. It occurs in about 6% of all jaguars, and it causes their fur to look black. You can still see the spots up close, but it looks black from a distance.

The term black panther applies to both leopards and jaguars who have this appearance.

Are There Other Members of the Panthera Family?

Seven big cats belong to the Panthera family. Here’s a complete list with facts about each.

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

Types of Jaguar cats - tiger
A Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Amur tiger, lying on a rock. A tiger is not a type of jaguar.

iStock.com/wrangel

The largest cat in the world, the tiger is notable for being striped instead of spotted. This huge, powerful cat lives in the dense tropical forests of India and the cold snows of Siberia. Like jaguars, tigers are good swimmers.

Lion (Panthera leo)

Types of Jaguar cats - lion
Majestic African lion couple. Although related to jaguars, a lion is not a type of jaguar.

iStock.com/Shawn Levin

The king of the beasts is second in size only to the tiger. The largest cat on the African continent, the lion differs from other big cats by being sociable instead of solitary. Identification of a lion is easy with its smooth, unspotted coat and curved tail.

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Types of Jaguar cats - jaguar
A Jaguar attacking a Cayman crocodile.

Gurkan Ozturk/Shutterstock.com

The jaguar is the largest cat on the American continent and one of the few New World big cats.

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

The leopard lives in Africa, where it competes with the lion and other predators for food. The leopard is a solitary hunter with a beautiful, spotted appearance that makes it look very much like a jaguar.

Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)

Types of Jaguar cats - Snow Leopard
A snow leopard lounges on a rock. The stunning snow leopard is one of the rarest big cats in the world, but not a type of jaguar.

iStock.com/RobFranklin

The stunning snow leopard is one of the rarest big cats in the world. With its light gray coat, tufted paws and dark gray spots, it is also one of the most beautiful. It lives in the Central Asian mountains, including the Himalayas.

Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

Types of Jaguar cats - Clouded Leopard
Clouded Leopard, endemic to Southeast Asia, is not a type of jaguar.

Ian Rentoul/Shutterstock.com

This cat with unusual markings lives in the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia. It is the smallest of the world’s wild cats. It is split into two species. The clouded leopard lives in China, Burma, and Nepal, and the Sunda clouded leopard lives in Borneo and Sumatra.

Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi)

Types of Jaguar - Sunda Clouded Leopard
The elusive Sunda or Borneo Clouded Leopard lying on a rock. This is not a type of jaguar.

studio382.net/Shutterstock.com

This jungle cat has a cloud-like appearance. It has soft gray and yellow spots and a stocky build. It lives on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. It is a secretive, elusive wild cat.

Do All These Big Cats Have the Same Diet?

These wild cats have a similar diet, and it’s based on where they live. They are carnivores who prey on smaller mammals, deer and antelopes. Jaguars have been known to kill and eat caimans. Since they can swim, jaguars and tigers include fish and other aquatic animals in their diet.

Enjoy These Beautiful Big Cats

We hope you have enjoyed learning these facts about jaguars and other wild cats. Although there aren’t different types of jaguars, there are black panthers. All these beautiful big cats are endangered, and conservationists are working to preserve their habitats.

Members of the Panthera Family

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About the Author

Abby Parks has authored a fiction novel, theatrical plays, short stories, poems, and song lyrics. She's recorded two albums of her original songs, and is a multi-instrumentalist. She has managed a website for folk music and written articles on singer-songwriters, folk bands, and other things folk-music oriented. She's also a radio DJ for a folk music show. As well as having been a pet-parent to rabbits, birds, dogs, and cats, Abby loves seeking sightings of animals in the wild, and has witnessed some more exotic ones such as: Puffins in the Farne Islands, Southern Pudu on the island of Chiloe (Chile), Penguins in the wild, and countless wild animals in the Rocky Mountains (Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Moose, Elk, Marmots, Beavers).

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