Can Jaguars Climb Trees? [Here’s What They Do]

Photo: Josef Svoboda / Shutterstock

Jaguars are a species of big cats found in various parts of the Americas. They’re predator animals that sneak up and ambush their prey.

They’re able to do so from the ground, the water, and even from trees.

Jaguars can climb trees, although they are not as adept at climbing as leopards. They can climb to lower branches of trees to both attack tree-dwelling prey and ambush animals on the ground. They prefer swimming to climbing, however, and are one of the few big cats at home in the water.

Jaguars Can Climb Trees (and Swim)

To hunt prey not on the land, jaguars have to have skills in both the water and the trees. While not as good at climbing as leopards, jaguars can and do climb trees.

The main reason a jaguar might be found in a tree is when it’s hunting. Birds are common prey, as well as monkeys, provided they stray to lower branches.

Mother jaguars encourage their cubs to climb trees early in life. It protects them from predators who are unable to climb.

The rosette pattern on their fur is also beneficial when climbing trees. The broken pattern helps them hide among the leaves and branches.

But it’s the water where jaguars truly shine. They’re excellent swimmers and don’t avoid water like other cats.

Jaguars use their large paws to help them swim. Even their tails help them in the water; jaguars will sometimes wave or tap their tails over the water to attract fish to the surface.

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These cats can be seen paddling hundreds of yards across open water. They can dive for a long time and even eat food while they’re underwater.

Habitats And Hunting

While jaguars can be found in grasslands, their most common habitats are full of trees. They live in rainforests, woodlands, and dry deciduous forests.

Jaguars originate from North America, but over time they moved southward, and have now lost most of their territory in the north. Today they live in Central America, Mexico, and South America.

While jaguars can be seen in the branches of the trees in these areas, they prefer to make their homes near water. They are often seen nearby and even in the water of rivers and streams.

Not only do they hunt land animals such as deer and javelina, they’re also adept at hunting in the water. Jaguars have been known to eat turtles, fish, and even young caiman.

A jaguar prefers to hunt via stealth, as they’re not as fast as cheetahs or as strong as lions. However, they do have a powerful bite exceeding even that of a tiger.

In proportion to their body mass, jaguars have the strongest known bite force of the big cats.

Big Cat Species (Common Name)Big Cat Species (Scientific Name)Bite Force In Relation To Size (BFQ)
JaguarPanthera onca137
TigerPanthera tigris127
CheetahAcinonyx jubatus119
LionPanthera leo112
CougarFelis concolor108
LeopardPanthera pardus94

Jaguars sneak up on their prey during the night and, once they’re close enough, snap their jaws around their prey’s head. Their strong jaws and sharp teeth can quickly pierce an animal’s skull, and even the hard shell of a turtle.

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Jaguars Vs. Leopards – Who Climbs Better?

Photo: Gudmundur Fridrik / Shutterstock

Jaguars and leopards can be difficult to tell apart, even when side by side. Both cats have a rosette pattern on their fur; jaguars, however, have a smaller spot in the center of each rosette that leopards lack.

Jaguars and leopards also spend a lot of time in the trees, more so than many other big cats.

Lions are too stiff and heavy, and cheetahs don’t have the retractable claws that make climbing easier. Other cats, like tigers, just don’t have much need to climb trees.

Between jaguars and leopards, however, leopards are the better climber. A jaguar’s body is stockier and has more muscle than a leopard. This makes them stronger (especially when it comes to biting), but not as lithe.

Jaguars also have shorter tails than leopards. This means they can’t balance as well on high, thin tree branches.


Though jaguars are known to be fond of swimming, it’s not their only means of surviving in the wild. They do climb trees when they need to do so.

Jaguars live in areas that are dense with trees, and they use that to their advantage. They can be seen climbing trees to evade predators, hiding themselves while hunting, and even reaching prey.

They don’t spend as much time in trees as leopards, as their bodies are a little stockier. This makes them a little less agile than leopards. They also have shorter tails, making it harder to balance on long branches.

But even if they’re not built for climbing the same way leopards are, jaguars are still able to climb with relative ease, and have found ways to use that skill to their advantage.

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Learn More About Jaguars:

  1. How Strong Are Jaguars?
  2. Do Jaguars Hibernate or Migrate?
  3. Do Jaguars Eat Snakes?
  4. Do Jaguars Eat Crocodiles?

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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