PLEISTOCENE PERIOD: 1.5 million - 10,000 years ago
Jaguars (Panthera onca) are carnivorous mammals and belong to the group Felidae. They are the largest cat in the western hemisphere. Jaguars are also one of the four types of cats that have the ability to roar. The roar sounds like deep, hoarse coughs, serving as way to communicate territorial boundaries and to announce their presence.
Legends of the jaguar abound with primitive Indian tribes who lived amongst these magnificent large cats. The jaguar was the master of animals in Central American mythology. The Tucano Indians of the Amazon believe the roar of the jaguar is the sound of thunder. Other primitive tribes believe it to be the god of darkness. Ancient folklore explains the spots on the jaguar's coat represent the stars and heavens with eclipses brought about when the jaguar swallows the sun. According to another Indian myth, the jaguar acquired its spotted coat by daubing mud on its body with its paws. The Olmecs, the earliest known Mexican civilization, believed in half man-half jaguar creatures and legend has it that these were the ancestors of Aztec and Mayan rain gods. The Aztec warrior god Tezcatlipoca is depicted as a jaguar and the jaguar was the chief figure in Mayan rites with human sacrifices made to the Jaguar God.
Despite that they are both spotted cats, a jaguar is larger and more robust than a leopard and has a broad, heavy head with shorter legs and tail. The jaguar's coat features a pattern of small isolated spots on the head and neck with dark open ring structures on the sides and flank that generally contain one to four dark spots inside the rings. Males rarely exceed 300 pounds and average 175 to 225 pounds. Most felids kill their prey with a throat or neck bite but jaguars bite through the temporal bones of the skull resulting in instant death. Their South American Indian name yaguara, means "a beast that kills its prey with one bound."