The jaguar is an opportunistic predator, and they have, in essence, three ways to hunt. They are capable of killing a wide range of prey animals as you might expect. They might eat a turtle egg or a 2-pound armadillo or they might attack and eat domestic cattle weighing 1,000 pounds. The jaguar is also well known for killing crocodilians.
One way that jaguars hunt is to walk slowly along their trail while watching and listening for an opportunistic encounter with a prey animal. The other way they hunt is to find a good spot to watch and wait and then ambush the unfortunate creature. A third way is to patrol river beaches. They can then encounter basking crocodilians or perhaps a turtle which has come ashore to lay eggs. They are rather fond of crocodilians and eggs. And they’re very good at killing them.
Once they spot an animal, in the same way that domestic cats hunt, they try and approach as close as possible without being noticed. One scientific observer, JR Rengger, who wrote a book1 about his experiences in Paraguay, reported on a jaguar attacking a capybara along the banks of the Rio Paraguay. He describes the encounter as follows:
“Serpent-like it winds its way over the ground, pausing for a minute or so to observe its quarry, often making a considerable detour to approach it from another direction where there is less risk of being detected. After it has been successful in getting close to its prey, the jaguar pounces on it in one, rarely two, bounds, presses it against the ground, tears out its throat and carries it, still struggling into a thicket.”
It does conjure up an image of great force and certain death for the prey animal. Although capybaras are relatively small prey animals for a jaguar, they are the largest rodent.
There are reports of jaguars jumping into water after capybaras to prevent them diving under the water safety.
Studies have found that that there are at least 85 different prey species for this impressive big cat. Fiona Sunquist states that “studies of jaguars in Belize, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, and Paraguay emphasise how varied and all-encompassing this cat’s diet can be.
There are many photographs on the Internet of jaguars attacking and killing crocodilians. They kill crocodilians and turtles with the sheer force of their bite which is the strongest bite of all the cats, driving their canine teeth into the skull. It is quite brutal and highly effective. This is their third technique over and above the usual throat (suffocation) or neck (break the spine) bite.
There are reports of the skulls of horses and cattle with two holes punched through the temporal bone. The bite is strong enough to drive their canine teeth through a turtle’s carapace (shell).
Note: 1 – Natugeschicte der Saugetiere von Paraguay (1830).
Below are some more pages on the jaguar.