Jaguars are the top predator of the Amazon rainforest, which is no surprise. They are large and muscular cats, capable of swimming after their prey and piercing thick skin and skulls with their teeth.
But crocodiles are also formidable animals, growing to huge lengths. Do jaguars take on crocodiles as their prey?
Jaguars do not eat crocodiles, but they do eat a close relative. Jaguars will often eat caiman, which belongs to the same order as crocodiles but are distinct species. There are no crocodiles in the Amazon rainforest where the majority of jaguars live.
Jaguars Are Powerful Hunters
A jaguar’s body has several attributes that make it a great hunter. A feature it shares with other cats is in their eyes.
They have a “tapetum lucidum,” a reflective structure at the back of their eyes. This is what causes a cat’s eyes to shine at night.
The tapetum lucidum almost doubles a jaguar’s night vision by reflecting light back into the retina. This makes it much easier to see its prey.
Jaguars are also very muscular and have large paws, which help them quietly stalk and kill their prey. They’re also very adept at swimming, widening their range of prey.
Finally, a jaguar’s most important attribute is its powerful jaw structure. It’s the strongest bite of the big cats relative to its size. A tiger’s bite is technically stronger, but a tiger is much bigger than a jaguar.
Jaguars use their jaw strength and teeth to pierce the thick skin, skulls, or even shells of their prey.
Jaguars Eat Caimans, Not Crocodiles
Jaguars live in Central America, Mexico, and South America. They prefer rainforests, grasslands, woodlands, and dry or seasonally flooded forests. Most jaguars currently live in the Amazon rainforest.
Crocodiles, on the other hand, always live near the water.
American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) are sometimes found in the same range as jaguars, though not in the same habitats. Namely, these crocodiles live along the Pacific coast stretching from Mexico to Peru.
Jaguars will instead eat caiman, among other animals. Caimans are part of the taxonomic order Crocodylia just like crocodiles, but they are not the same species.
Caimans and crocodiles aren’t even in the same family. Scientists divide Crocodylia into three families: Crocodylidae, Alligatoridae, and Gavialidae.
True crocodiles are part of the Crocodylidae family, while caimans fall under Alligatoridae.
Difference Between A Caiman And A Crocodile
Each species of crocodile and caiman is going to have their own distinct characteristics, but there are a few general ways to tell them apart. Because alligators and caimans are part of the same family, they share similar traits.
The snout of a caiman tends to be wide with a U-shape and a rounded snout. A crocodile’s snout is much longer and more pointed, like a V.
Their teeth also mark the difference between the two animals.
There’s a fourth tooth on the lower jaw of crocodiles that sticks up over their top lip; you can see it even when their mouth isn’t open. You can’t see that tooth on a caiman.
Even their habitats are different. Crocodiles can get rid of excess salt through a gland in their tongue, which is why you’ll often find them on the coast.
Caimans, on the hand, don’t have such a gland, so they’re in freshwater habitats, such as the rivers in rainforests where jaguars live.
Finally, there’s the size difference. With alligators and crocodiles, you may not be able to tell just by the size which is which.
An adult American alligator is between about 8-11 feet (2.6-3.4 meters). Adult American crocodiles are between 8 and 14 feet (4.3 meters), though they can reach up to 20 feet (6.1 meters).
Caimans, on the other hand, are typically smaller. The common caiman (or spectacled caiman) only grows to about five feet (one and half meters) in length.
Even the largest species, the black caiman, is only about 15 feet at maximum.
What Else Do Jaguars Eat?
Jaguars may not be able to hunt crocodiles, but it still has plenty of food to eat.
Jaguars are known to prey on over 85 species. Their diet includes small animals such as birds, turtles, and fish, but also larger animals like deer and bighorn sheep. Sometimes, a jaguar may even eat fruit, like avocado.
They hunt from the ground, the trees, and even the water. They’ve been known to swim great distances, allowing them to prey on various snakes and, of course, caimans.
Caimans and crocodiles are not the same animals. This is an important distinction when discussing the diet of jaguars.
Jaguars do not eat crocodiles. They will eat a caiman, which is part of the same order as and share a similar appearance to a crocodile. Jaguars use their strong jaws and large teeth to pierce the thick, leathery skin of caimans with ease.
Based on how jaguars hunt caiman, it’s not a matter of physical strength that keeps crocodiles off of a jaguar’s menu. Jaguars and crocodiles simply aren’t often found in the same habitat.
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