The jaguar has the strongest bite of all the cats and the strength of this enormously powerful bite is used to good effect to shatter the almost impregnable defences of the turtle and the armour of reptiles.
The jaguar has been eating turtles for 2 million years! But today the turtle is becoming an increasing rare dinner for the jaguar because of humankind: people like turtles too and guess who wins. This is one way how wild cat species become extinct. Humans kill their prey to the point where the cat struggles to survive.
In the rainforests of Peru one-third of the prey of the jaguar, as identified by scats (faeces), were turtles, tortoises and caiman.
Jaguars kill both land and river turtles by breaking the carapace with their teeth. The smooth flat carapace of river turtles provides no hold for the teeth to get into and it is thicker on the top than the sides.
Jaguars open them by breaking the edges of the carapace and making holes on both sides rather than enlarging a single hole on the top (see the lower picture on this page).
The tortoise shell is easier to get into as it has ridges for the teeth to grab so the jaguar eats from the top (see top image above).
Caiman are killed with a single crushing bite to the neck and then opened like a can along the sides of the body where there are no bony armour body plates.
The jaguar is the only cat that specialises on armoured reptiles as prey. There is a downside: they occasionally break their canine teeth (the long ones) 😉 . They sometimes lose an eye in catching caiman.
The jaguars’ taste for turtles and caiman is probably what brings this big cat, the third largest, to the waterside.
The photos are by Louise H Emmons via an excellent book: Great Cats ISBN 0-87857-965-6
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