Difference between a Jaguar and a Leopard

Updated on April 1, 2017

The jaguar and the leopard are classified as “big cats.” The are among the four cats that are able to roar. Both the jaguar and the leopard are members of the Panthera genus. These two cats are apex predators, meaning they belong at the top of the food chain and no other animals prey on them. Moreover, a lot of people get confused with these two since, at first glance, their physical features seem quite similar. However, the jaguar and the leopard do have a number of differences which we’ll discuss in this article. As you read on, we’ll help you discover what sets these two felines apart.

Descriptions

Jaguar
A jaguar

The jaguar is the third largest cat in the world. Its scientific name is Panthera onca. It is classified as a new world cat and is found roaming in South America, Central America, and Argentina. The jaguar’s body is 5 – 6 feet long, excluding the tail. The jaguar’s tail alone is 2.3 – 3 feet long. It weighs around 100 – 250 lbs.

Distinct physical features

The jaguar has a large and wide head, with eyes that are far apart. It also has a distinct white color above its nose. The jaguar’s coat has a rosette pattern which is called “rosette” since the spots resemble the shape of the rose. A jaguar’s rosette pattern has spots inside, which is one clear way of identifying a jaguar. Moreover, jaguars have a short, stocky build. They also have large abdomens which can make them look like they’re pregnant.

There are some jaguars that are black due to color morphism. But these black morphs are less common than the regular spotted ones. They are also known as black panthers. Conversely, there are also the white panther kind, which are the extremely rare albino jaguars.

Behavior and traits

You’ll mostly find jaguars in dense rainforests, swamps, deserts, and scrublands. In the wild, the jaguar lives around 12 – 15 years. The behavior and traits of a jaguar are similar to that of the tiger. They like water and enjoy swimming. Jaguars are solitary animals. They like to stalk and ambush their prey instead of chasing after them. They are considered the most powerful of the big cats, even exceeding the strength of lions and tigers. Jaguars are also known to be aggressive and usually face up even to bigger animals.

Jaguars have a huge jaw and an extremely strong bite force, often considered as the most powerful bite among mammals. They can even pierce the shell of reptiles with a fatal bite that goes directly to the skull and into the brain of their prey. Jaguars often drag their kills while walking backwards. Nowadays, jaguars are still being hunted for their fur. Farmers also tend to kill these cats due to instances when they prey on their livestock.

leopard
A leopard

The leopard is the fourth largest cat in the world. Its scientific name is Panthera pardus. It is found in China, India, the Middle East, and Africa. A leopard’s body is 4.25 – 6.25 feet, excluding the tail. The leopard’s tail is 3.5 – 4.5 feet long. It weighs around 66 – 176 lbs.

Distinct physical features

The leopard has a slim face with average eye width and a pointy nose. It has a pale yellow to yellowish brown coat. The leopard’s coat is filled with rosette patterns. The rosettes do not have any spots in the middle. This is how you could clearly recognize a leopard. The pattern fades towards the leopard’s white underbelly and in the lower parts of its legs. The rosette patterns are unique to each cat. Leopards have a compact body. They appear to be the leanest among the four big cats.

Behavior and traits

Leopards are found in various habitats like mountains, forests, grasslands, and even deserts. In the wild, they can live around 12 – 15 years and about 23 years in captivity. They are very territorial animals. Leopards are most active from dusk till dawn and usually rest on rocks or tree branches during most of the day. Since they can adapt to various habitats, they have an opportunistic hunting behavior and they are the cat which has the most varied diet. They can run very fast, up to 36 mph (58 kph), leap horizontally over 20 feet, and jump 9.8 feet in the air.

Leopards attack and kill their prey with a suffocating bite. They usually target the throat or mouth area. They often pull their prey forwards and drag their kill up into trees and hang them there. This behavior is done to avoid competition with other predators. Leopards tend to shy away when confronted by larger animals.

Jaguar vs Leopard

What is the difference between a jaguar and a leopard?

Jaguars are found in the wilds of South America and Argentina while leopards are found in Africa and Asia. One of the distinct features of the jaguar is having a large and wide head compared to the slim face of the leopard. The jaguar is stockier, more muscular, and has a shorter tail compared with the leopard, which has a more compact body and a longer tail. One clear way to identify a jaguar from a leopard is through their rosette pattern. The jaguar’s rosette pattern has spots inside whereas the leopard’s rosette pattern does not have any spots.

In terms of behavior, jaguars are very aggressive. On the other hand, leopards tend to shy away when confronted by bigger animals. In hunting, jaguars use their strong and powerful bite to kill their prey, targeting the skull and delivering a fatal bite to the brain. Leopards, on the other hand, inflict a suffocating bite on its prey, attacking the throat or mouth area.

Comparison Chart

Jaguar Leopard
Found in South America and ArgentinaFound in Africa and Asia
Has a large, wide headHas a slim face
Stocky and more muscular; bigger than a leopardMore compact body; smallest of the 4 big cats
Tail is generally shorterHas longer tail
Rosette pattern has spots inside the rosettesRosette pattern does not have spots inside the rosettes
Aggressive and tend to stand their ground against bigger animalsTends to shy away at the sight of bigger animals
Has a powerful bite, usually attacks the skull, biting directly to the brainDelivers a suffocating bite around the throat or mouth

Video

Watch this video to identify the differences between a jaguar, a leopard, and a cheetah.