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Haemig PD  (2012)   Sympatric Jaguar and Puma. ECOLOGY.INFO 6



Sympatric Jaguar and Puma

Note: This online review is updated and revised continuously, as soon as results of new scientific research become available.  It therefore presents state-of-the-art information on the topic it covers.

Only two species of big cats live in the New World: the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the puma (Puma concolor).  Both species occur together in tropical forests and savannas. 

When two or more species live in the same area, ecologists say they are sympatric.  In this article, we compare the habits of sympatric jaguar and puma, and examine the many important ways that they differ from each other.

Difficulties in Studying Sympatric Jaguar and Puma

Before we begin our review and synthesis of the literature, however, we should take a moment to consider the many problems that researchers face when attempting to study sympatric jaguar and puma.  Because both cats range over large territories, any researcher confining his or her study to one locality will probably encounter only a few individuals of each cat species.  This is not good because it is difficult to draw general conclusions from such a small number of individuals.  Yet, in most cases, the researcher has not been given adequate funding to allow sampling in other localities.

Another problem is that most of the animals eaten by jaguar and puma are also hunted by humans.  In many areas, overhunting and poaching by humans has reduced these prey populations to very low numbers.  In such localities, jaguar and puma may not be able to specialize on different foods, because overall prey abundance is so low that they must hunt any animal they can find (including domestic livestock).

Furthermore, jaguar and puma are themselves extensively and illegally hunted by humans in some areas.  When this happens, the populations of these big cats can become so low in relation to the food supply, that they do not compete with each other, and therefore might not differ as much in their food habits as under natural conditions.

The best places to study sympatric jaguar and puma are in wilderness areas where neither of these big cats, nor the animals they prey upon, have been reduced in numbers by hunting, poaching or trapping.  Unfortunately, such areas are increasingly difficult to find in our modern world.

General Food Habits

The major prey of both jaguar and puma are mammals, and a diverse number of mammal species are eaten by both cats (Emmons 1987; Aranda & Sanchez Cordero 1996; Chinchilla 1997; Taber et al. 1997; Farrell et al. 2000; Núñez et al. 2000).  However, while the two cats often eat the same species of prey, some animals are eaten more frequently by puma and some more frequently by jaguar.  In addition, the two cats prefer different-sized prey.  We will now look at these differences in detail.

Differences in Body Size and Prey Size

The jaguar is the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere and can subdue larger prey than can the puma.  The puma, however, has a greater geographic distribution than the jaguar, ranging from Alaska and Northern Canada to the southmost tip of South America.  Iriarte et al. (1990) compared the ratio of head length to body length of puma across its entire geographic distribution, and found that the puma's body size becomes smaller in areas where it is sympatric with jaguar.  This decrease in puma body size is also correlated with a decrease in the body size of its prey.

When sympatric with jaguar, the puma generally takes more medium-sized and smaller prey, while the jaguar shows a preference for larger prey (Taber et al. 1997; Maxit 2001; Polisar et al. 2003; Azevedo 2008).   For example, on the llanos of Venezuela, Scognamillo et al. (2003) found that jaguar selected mainly large prey (greater than 15 kilograms), while puma selected mainly medium-sized prey (1-15 kilograms).

Predation on Tapir

The three species of New World tapirs (Tapiridae) are the largest native land mammals of the Neotropics and the last surviving elements of the Pleistocene megafauna of Central and South America (Fragoso and Huffman 2000).  Jaguar prey more frequently on tapir than do puma.  (Roth 1941; Schaller 1983; Mondolfi & Hoogestijn 1986; Crawshaw & Quigley 1984; Taber et al. 1997).

One possible explanation is that jaguar, being larger than puma, are better able to subdue larger prey than puma.  Another possible explanation is that jaguar encounter tapir more often than puma because both jaguar and tapir use waterside habitats more frequently than puma (see below; Bodmer 1991; Salas 1996).

Predation on Deer

Deer are preyed upon more frequently by puma than by jaguar (Aranda & Sanchez Cordero 1996; Chinchilla 1997, Maxit 2001; Scognamillo et al. 2003; Foster et al. 2009)

For example, on the llanos of Venezuela, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) constituted 21% of the biomass consumed by puma, but only 7% of the biomass consumed by jaguar (Scognamillo et al. 2003).  While these results could indicate that the puma is a more efficient deer killer, another possible explanation is that puma encounter white-tailed deer more often than jaguar, because these deer use open habitats that are less frequently visited by jaguar (Scognamillo et al. 2003).

In protected areas of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala, remains of white-tailed deer were found 3 times more frequently in puma scats than in jaguar scats, and remains of brocket deer (Mazama species) were found 6 times more frequently in puma scats than in jaguar scats (Novack et al. 2005).

Predation on Peccaries

Peccaries are preyed upon more frequently by jaguar than by puma (Aranda & Sanchez Cordero 1996; Chinchilla 1997; Maxit 2001; Scognamillo et al. 2003; Novack et al. 2005; Foster et al. 2009).

On the llanos of Venezuela, Scognamillo et al. (2003) found that while jaguar took adult collared peccaries (Tayassu tajacu) more frequently than did puma, puma took juvenile collared peccaries more frequently than did jaguar.

At sites in Panama where jaguar were rare or absent, puma expanded their niche by feeding more on collared peccaries (Moreno et al. 2006).

Predation on Armored Reptiles

Large armored reptiles make up a significant portion of the jaguar's diet, but usually only an insignificant part of the puma's diet (Guggisberg 1975; Mondolfi & Hoogestijn 1986; Emmons 1987,1989; Carrillo et al. 1994; Scognamillo et al. 2003; Silveira et al. 2010).  Large armored reptiles include caimans, crocodiles, turtles and tortoises.

Armored reptiles are relatively scarce today, but were more abundant in the past, before they were ruthlessly overhunted by humans.  The jaguar's habit of feeding extensively on these unique prey is related to its own unique anatomy.

For example, the jaguar's unusually large head (compared to other big cats) and powerful canine teeth are marvelously adapted for crushing the hard shells of turtles and tortoises, and breaking through the extremely hard integuments of caimans and crocodiles (Biknevicius and Van Valkenburgh 1996).  In contrast, the puma has a relatively small head, with relatively thin canine teeth (Emmons 1987,1989). 

Emmons (1989) estimates that a single large tortoise can satisfy the jaguar's daily food requirement of 1.4 kilograms of meat.

On the llanos of Venezuela, both jaguar and puma preyed upon spectacled caimans (Caiman crocodilus) that weighed less than 15 kilograms, but only the jaguar preyed upon spectacled caimans that weighed greater than 15 kilograms (Scognamillo et al. 2003). 

Predation on Armored Mammals

The jaguar also specializes in eating armored mammals.  For example, in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala, the remains of nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) were found 6 times more frequently in jaguar scats than in puma scats (Novack et al. 2005).

Similar results were found in Belize.  When feeding on medium-sized (5-10 kg) prey species, jaguar specialized in eating nine-banded armadillos while puma specialized in eating paca (Agouti paca), a rodent (Foster et al. 2009).

Predation on Monkeys

In the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala, remains of spider monkeys (Ateles geoffryii) and howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) were found over seven times more frequently in puma scats than in jaguar scats (Novack et al. 2005).  In Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica, Chinchilla (1997) also found that the remains of monkeys were more frequent in puma scats than in jaguar scats.

Habitat Selection

Jaguar use habitats near water more frequently than do puma.  For example, Emmons (1987) compared use of habitats by jaguar and puma along a tributary of the Amazon river in eastern Peru, and found jaguar using waterside habitats more often than puma.  In the rainforest away from the river, Emmons found jaguar tracks on 35 days and puma tracks on 32 days, suggesting equal use of this habitat by the 2 cats. 

However, along the margins of lakes and rivers, Emmons found jaguar tracks on 39 days and puma tracks on only 5 days.  In addition, she reported that the puma was seen only once in the open along the river sunning on a log, while jaguar were often seen resting, sunning or walking along the beaches of rivers and lakes, and their tracks could be followed for thousands of meters along the exposed beaches and mud banks there during the dry season.

Thus, the jaguar's ability to exploit the once-abundant reptile resources of the tropics (see above) is correlated with its more frequent use of habitats near water (Emmons 1987,1989).  Observations of other researchers are consistent with Emmons' conclusions.  For example, in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Schaller and Crawshaw (1980) report that puma are generally most abundant in dry vegetation types, while jaguar are more abundant in moist vegetation types.

In large forest patches greater than 300 hectares in area on the Venezuelan llanos, both jaguar and puma usually occur within 500 meters of the forest edge (Scognamillo et al. 2003).  However, the jaguar is twice as likely as the puma to be found deeper in the forest (i.e. more than 500 meters from the forest edge).

In contrast to the above findings, a number of studies have found jaguar and puma with similar or near-similar habitat preferences (Harmsen et al. 2009; Foster et al. 2010).

Temporal Differences

On the Venezuelan llanos, jaguar and puma show significant differences in activity patterns.  Both cats are more active (i.e. move around more) at night than during daytime.  However, in the rainy season, jaguar are more active than puma during daytime, while puma are more active than jaguar at night (Scognamillo et al. 2003).  During the dry season, puma are more active than jaguar during both night and daytime (Scognamillo et al. 2003).

One explanation given for the greater movement of puma at night is that puma hunt smaller, less detectable prey than jaguar, and so must devote more time searching for them (Scognamillo et al. 2003).

Predation on Mesocarnivores

Like other large mammalian carnivores, the jaguar and puma prey upon smaller-sized carnivores (Palomares & Caro 1999).  For example, in one Mexican study, the second most frequent prey found in the scats of both jaguar and puma was the white-nosed coati (Nasua nasua) (Aranda & Sanchez-Cordero 1996).  In another Mexican study, predation by jaguar and puma accounted for about half of all mortality experienced by adult white-nosed coatis (Hass & Valenzuela 2002).

In the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala, remains of white-nosed coati were found 22 times more frequently in jaguar scats than in puma scats (Novack et al. 2005).

On the llanos of Venezuela, remains of the crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus) were found in 5% of jaguar scats (Scognamillo et al. 2003).  In addition, jaguar predation on ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) has been reported from Venezuela and Costa Rica (Mondolfi & Hoogestijn 1986; Chinchilla 1997).


Aranda M, Sanchez-Cordero V  (1996)  Prey spectra of Jaguar (Panthera onca) and Puma (Felis concolor) in tropical forests of Mexico.  Studies of Neotropical Fauna and Environment 31: 65-67

Azevedo FCC (2008)  Food habits and livestock depredation of sympatric Jaguars and Pumas in the Iguacu National Park area, south Brazil.  Biotropica 40: 494-500

Biknevicius AR, Van Valkenburgh  (1996)  Design for killing: craniodental adaptations of predators.  Carnivore Behavior, Ecology and Evolution 2: 393-428 (Cornell University Press, New York)

Bodmer RE  (1991)  Influence of digestive morphology on resource partitioning in Amazonian ungulates.  Oecologia 85: 361-365

Carrillo E, Morera R, Wong G  (1994)  Depredacion de tortuga lora (Lepidochelys olivacea) y de tortuga verde (Chelonia mydas) por el jaguar (Panthera onca).  Vida Silvestre Neotrop. 3: 48-49

Chinchilla FA  (1997)  La dieta del jaguar (Panthera onca), el puma (Felis concolor) y el manigordo (Felis pardalis) en el Parque Nacional Corcovado, Costa Rica.  Revista de Biologia Tropical 45: 1223-1229

Crawshaw P, Quigley H (1984)  A ecologia do jaguar ou onca pintada no Pantanal.  Relatorio entreque ao Instituto Brasileiro de Desenvolvimento florestal.  IBDF/DN, Brasilia

Emmons LH  (1987)  Comparative feeding ecology of felids in a neotropical rainforest.  Behavioral Ecology and Sociobology 20: 271-283

Emmons LH  (1989)  Jaguar Predation on Chelonians.  Journal of Herpetology 23: 311-314

Farrell LE, Romant J, Sunquist ME  (2000)  Dietary separation of sympatric carnivores identified by molecular analysis of scats.  Molecular Ecology 9: 1583-1590

Foster RJ, Harmsen BJ, Valdes B, Pomilla C, Doncaster CP  (2009)  Food habits of sympatric jaguars and pumas across a gradient of human disturbance. 

Foster RJ, Harmsen BJ, Doncaster CP  (2010)  Habitat use by sympatric jaguars and pumas across a gradient of human disturbance.  Biotropica 42: 724-731

Fragoso JM, Huffman JM  (2000)  Seed-dispersal and seedling recruitment patterns by the last Neotropical megafaunal element in Amazonia, the Tapir.  Journal of Tropical Ecology 16: 369-385

Guggisberg CAW  (1975)  Wild Cats of the World.  David & Charles, London

Garla RC, Setz EZF, Gobbi N  (2001)  Jaguar (Panthera onca) food habits in Atlantic Rain Forest of Southeastern Brazil.  Biotropica 33: 691-696

Harmsen BJ, Foster RJ, Silver SC, Ostro LET, Doncaster CP  (2009)  Spatial and temporal interactions of sympatric jaguars (Panthera onca) and Pumas (Puma concolor) in a Neotropical forest.  Journal of Mammalogy 90: 612-620

Hass CC, Valenzuela D  (2002)  Anti-predator benefits of group living in white-nosed coatis (Nasua narica).  Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 51: 570-578

Hoogesteijn R, Hoogesteijn A, Mondolfi E  (1993)  Jaguar predation and conservation: cattle mortality caused by felines on three ranches in the Venezuelan Llanos.  Symposia of the Zoological Society of London 65: 391-407

Iriarte JA, Franklin WL, Johnson WE, Redford KH  (1990)  Biogeographic variation of food habits and body size of the American Puma.  Oecologia 85: 185-190

Maxit IE  (2001)  Prey Use by Sympatric Jaguar and Puma in the Venezuelan Llanos.  MS Thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Mondolfi E, Hoogesteijn R (1989)  Notes on the biology and status of the Jaguar in Venezuela.  In: Miller SD, Everett DD (eds) Cats of the World: Biology, Conservation and Management.  National Wildlife Federation, Washington DC, pp 85-123

Moreno RS, Kays RW, Samudio R  (2006)  Competitive release in diets of ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and puma (Puma concolor) after jaguar (Panthera onca) decline.  Journal of Mammalogy 87: 808-816

Novak AJ, Main MB, Sunquist ME, Labisky RF  (2005)  Foraging ecology of jaguar (Panthera onca) and puma (Puma concolor) in hunted and non-hunted sites within the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala.  Journal of Zoology 267: 167-178

Núñez R, Miller B, Lindzey F  (2000)  Food habits of jaguars and pumas in Jalisco, Mexico.  Journal of Zoology 252: 373-379

Palomares F, Caro TM  (1999)  Interspecific killing among mammalian carnivores.  American Naturalist 153: 492-508

Polisar J, Maxit I, Scognamillo D, Farrell L, Sunquist ME, Eisenberg JF  (2003)  Jaguars, pumas, their prey base, and cattle ranching: ecological interpretations of a management problem.  Biological Conservation 109: 297-310

Roth V  (1941)  Animal Life in British Guiana.  The "Daily Chronicle" Ltd., Georgetown.

Salas LA  (1996)  Habitat use by Lowland Tapirs (Tapirus terrestris L.) in the Tabaro River valley, southern Venezuela.  Canadian Journal of Zoology 74: 1452-1458

Schaller GB  (1980)  Movement patterns of Jaguar.  Biotropica 12: 161-168

Schaller GB  (1983)  Mammals and their biomass on a Brazilian Ranch.  Arquivos de Zoologia (Sao Paulo) 31: 1-36

Scognamillo DG  (2001)  Ecological Separation between Jaguar and Puma in a Mosaic Landscape in the Venezuelan Llanos.  MS thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Scognamillo DG, Maxit IE, Sunquist M, Polisar J  (2003)  Coexistence of Jaguar (Panthera onca) and Puma (Puma concolor) in a mosaic landscape in the Venezuelan llanos.  Journal of the Zoological Society of London 259: 269-279

Silveira R da, Ramalho EE, Thorbjarnarson JB, Magnusson WE  (2010)  Depredation by jaguars on caimans and importance of reptiles in the diet of jaguar.  Journal of Herpetology 44: 418-424

Taber AB, Novaro AJ, Neris N, Colman FH  (1997)  The Food Habits of Sympatric Jaguar and Puma in the Paraguayan Chaco.  Biotropica 29: 204-213

Information about this Review

This review is also available in the following languages:  

Portuguese    Spanish

The author is:  Dr. Paul D. Haemig (PhD in Animal Ecology)

The top photograph showing a puma in a tree was taken by Hans Stenström (Sweden).  The two lower photographs picture different color phases (morphs) of the jaguar.

The proper citation is:

Haemig PD  2012    Sympatric Jaguar and Puma.  ECOLOGY.INFO #6

If you are aware of any important scientific publications about sympatric jaguar and puma that were omitted from this review, or have other suggestions for improving it, please contact the author at his e-mail address: 

director {at} ecology.info

© Copyright 2000-2012 Ecology Online Sweden.  All rights reserved.

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