Differences Between Jaguars & Cheetahs

By Dan Fielder

Jaguars and cheetahs are carnivorous wild cats found on separate continents. Significant numbers of jaguars are found in remote regions of South and Central America. Isolated sightings are reported in Mexico and near that country's border with the United States. Most cheetahs are found in eastern and southwestern Africa. They favor wide-open grassland, but that habitat is disappearing because of human settlement.

Jaguar Physical Characteristics

A jaguar is significantly larger and heavier than a cheetah. The head and body are 5 to 6 feet long, and the tail measures 27.5 to 36 inches. The cat weighs 100 to 250 pounds. Most jaguars are tan or orange with black spots as well as markings called rosettes. Some jaguars are almost black; the spots can only be seen at close range.

Jaguar Behavior

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Jaguars are comfortable in water and will swim in rivers in search of food. They eat fish, turtles or small alligator-like animals called caimans. On land, jaguars eat deer, capybaras and tapirs, among other animals. Typically, jaguars kill their prey with a single bite. They are solitary hunters with territories of many square miles.

A jaguar litter is one to four cubs, born blind. The mother defends them from all other animals. The cubs remain in the birthing den for up to six months; they are weaned after about three months.

Cheetah Physical Characteristics

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A cheetah's head and body total 3.5 to 4.5 feet long, and the tail measures 25.5 to 31.5 inches. It weighs 77 to 143 pounds. Cheetahs are tremendously fast -- they can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in three seconds. A cheetah cannot retract its claws like other cats, but this gives it superior traction at high speeds. It has tan and white fur with dark spots, and distinctive black stripes underneath the eyes.

Cheetah Behavior

A cheetah's favorite prey animals are antelopes and hares. It runs after its quarry and attempts to knock it down, then kills it with a bite on the neck. Chases require a lot of energy and usually end in less than a minute. The cat is suited to dry environments and only needs to drink once every three to four days.

According to nationalgeographic.com, "Female cheetahs typically have a litter of three cubs and live with them for one and a half to two years. Young cubs spend their first year learning from their mother and practicing hunting techniques with playful games. Male cheetahs live alone or in small groups, often with their littermates."

About the Author

Dan Fielder has been writing professionally since 2005. He has written for the "Catskill Mountain Region Guide" magazine in upstate New York and was a copy editor for "The Ojai Bubble." He holds an Associate of Arts from Columbia-Greene College.