How do jaguars kill prey?

Snake eating jaguar
A snake-eating jaguar. Credit: Michel Zoghzoghi / 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year
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As the jaguar has the highest bite force of all the cats, it has a third and brutal way of killing prey in addition to the neck and throat bite. The neck bite breaks the spine. The throat bite suffocates prey. The jaguar’s way is to insert its canine teeth directly into the prey’s brain, driving the teeth through the skull. This technique is not seen in other felids.

Neck and throat bite

The thick skulls of horses and cattle killed by jaguars often have holes punched through the skull at the temporal bone. Capybaras are sometimes killed with a bite at the back of the skull which pierces it. Rather grotesquely, some capybaras skulls have been found which showed that the jaguar inserted its canine teeth into the brain via each ear.

Turtles and tortoises

The turtle is a favourite meal of the jaguar
The turtle is a favourite meal of the jaguar

Turtles (and tortoises) are not excepted from this direct and deadly technique. Turtles make up a large part of the jaguar’s diet in may areas of South America. Jaguars are able to break open the carapace of large tortoises and eat the interior. Small turtles are crunched whole. Some river turtles are large at 32 kilograms. For very large turtles the jaguar is able to insert their paws between the carapace and the plastron to scoop out the flesh without breaking the carapace. Also jaguars break back the lower edge of the carapace to get at the body cavity. Jaguars are not always able to kill tortoises this way as indicated by gouge marks on living ones.

These exploits can damaged the jaguar’s teeth. Apparently many jaguar skulls in museums have canine teeth that are chipped and badly worn. It is possible that the superior bite force of the jaguar and robust canine teeth may have evolved to eat turtles and tortoises.

Fish and amphibians

How much do jaguars eat?
Jaguars kill caiman using its powerful jaws and forbidable strength.

The jaguar also feeds on fish. This is a fishing cat although you wouldn’t expect it. The fishing technique of the jaguar has been a source of debate. Apparently, the local inhabitants of the areas where the jaguar lives say that this third largest wild cat goes into the water and discharges some saliva onto the surface, which attracts fish. The jaguar then flips out the fish onto the bank with its paw. Another source says that they tap the surface of the water with their tails which lures fish towards them. It is said that the tail mimics the sound of falling fruit to attract fruit-eating fish. As it happens, I’m told that fruit-eating fish do not exist in the Amazon but they are attracted to the sound of fruit falling into water.

Jaguars catch fish whenever they can. During the dry season pools dry up leaving fish stranded. They are vulnerable to predators such as the jaguar. Jaguars have been seen at these dried up pools. Another account reports that a freshwater dolphin resting in shallow water was attacked by jaguar.

Source: Wild Cats of the World. Please ask in a comment if you want precise and detailed references.

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