Difference between leopard, cheetah and jaguar

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The leopard, cheetah, and jaguar are all big cats and can look quite similar if a little attention is not paid to a few details. In fact, they are perhaps the three big cats that we most confuse and, therefore, many people look for information to know the difference well, such as fur, size, speed and habitat, among others, and learn to distinguish them without difficulties. They are felines with spotted fur, predators with great hunting ability and, on some occasions, they even share a habitat.

However, it is necessary to learn how to distinguish them if you want to know these animals well or, also, in case of traveling to the countries they inhabit. The scientific names of these felines are Panthera pardus, Acinonyx jubatus Y Panthera onca, but they are not the only thing that differentiates them. Keep reading this article by Ecologist Verde to know the difference between leopard, cheetah and jaguar.

Physical differences between leopard, cheetah and jaguar

In the featured image at the beginning of the article we can see a leopard, a cheetah and a jaguar together and you can see well some of the physical differences. But, so that these are clearer, we are going to detail them below:

Size and weight

  • The cheetah, also known as the cheetah or cheetah in English, it is a feline that has long legs and is tall, since it measures between 70 and 90 cm at the withers, it is thin and slender, since it weighs between 35 and 60 kg.
  • The leopard measures 45 to 78 cm at the withers and weighs 30 to 90 kg.
  • The jaguar, also called yaguar or yaguareté, measures between 75 and 85 cm in height and weighs between 50 and more than 100 kg, depending on the subspecies, so they are much larger and more compact.

Different species genera

As their scientific name indicates, the jaguar and leopard belong to the genus Panthera, like many other cats such as the lion and the tiger. It should be noted that black panthers, which are simply known as panthers, are actually jaguars, leopards and pumas with melanism or melanism, that is, they have darker fur, although you can see the drawings on the mantle, something that It is due to an increase in melanocytes, the cells responsible for pigmentation. On the other hand, the cheetah is another totally different species of feline.

The fur and spots

  • The cheetah has rounded and separated black spots, being totally mottled, and in addition, it has black lines that highlight the eyes and the snout, going from the corner of the eye to the corner of the lips.
  • Leopard markings are less rounded, they can overlap creating different shapes and somewhat larger spots and, in addition, on the back and sides they have yellowish-brown spots that are darker than the rest of the coat and surrounded by black.
  • The jaguar has a fur very similar to that of the leopard, but its spots are mostly orange and surrounded by black almost all over the body and on the inside of the legs it has overlapping spots that come to look like stripes.

The claws

The claws of the cheetah are not retractable and are somewhat rounded, that is, they are fixed remaining outside and are not sharp, they look more like those of a dog, and those of the other two animals are, since they do not run as much but yes they climb trees. In the case of the cheetah, this is so that it can start running at any time and always have a secure grip for the race without wearing out or breaking the tips of the nails if they were sharp.


The cheetah's chest is wider and deeper than that of the other two big cats because its lungs are larger in proportion to the rest of its body. This is because for his hunting style, reaching amazing speeds, he needs more air to obtain a huge supply of oxygen that allows this operation.

So, by way of summary, these are the main physical differences between leopard, cheetah and jaguar:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Genus and species
  • Fur and spots
  • Claws
  • Speed

Where do the leopard, cheetah and jaguar live?

This is another difference between the three species, since they live in different areas although sometimes there are territories in which they coincide and coexist. Specifically, the cheetah inhabits Africa, in the central and southeastern zone of the African savannah, although there is a subspecies in Asia, in serious danger of extinction, called the Asian cheetah. The leopard lives in Africa and South Asia, a much more extensive territory, being able to inhabit from the savannah to forests, jungles and rocky areas, it is a very adaptable animal. By last, the jaguar lives in central and south america, specifically in tropical and temperate forests from Mexico to Argentina.

Therefore, the jaguar does not coincide naturally with the other two feline species, but the cheetah and the leopard do coincide in some areas of Africa. When they coexist they face the problem that they have the same type of prey and they need a lot of territory to survive, so they compete with each other to survive. Anyway, the leopard adapts much better and is able to change some habits in order to coexist with the cheetah.

How these cats hunt is another big difference

There are several different aspects in the way these cats hunt, but it must be taken into account that the cheetah is the one that is most distinguished in the hunting method of the other two, precisely because of its physical capacity. The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world, thanks to his physique much more prepared for the hunting career. This animal reaches 100 km / h in about 3 seconds, reaching a maximum speed between 110 and 120 km / h in short races of about 400 meters. Other differences between leopard, cheetah and jaguar regarding hunting and survival are as follows:

  • As we have mentioned, the leopard is capable of adapting and changing its hunting habits in order to coexist with other felines, such as the cheetah. For example, they can change the hours of hunting, they adapt to hunt during the day as well as at night.
  • Due to the type of cheetah's claws, they kill their prey only by suffocation, while the other two animals can dig in their claws well causing serious injuries as well as producing suffocation.
  • Jaguars hunt at dawn and dusk, as they are primarily active at night, although they can sometimes hunt during the day.
  • The cheetah eats its prey on the ground, either where it has hunted them or after taking them to a more hidden area, where its young are for example, and it must do so quickly to avoid facing scavengers larger than itself, such as other cats. and hyenas. On the other hand, both the jaguar and the leopard are not only hunters, but are also scavengers and, whether they hunt live prey or find remains, they always climb them to the trees to eat safely and protected, something they achieve thanks to their sharp edges. claws.

Curiosities of the leopard, the cheetah and the jaguar

To finish, we want to add some curiosities of these species that are useful to know:

  • The jaguar is the third largest feline in the world, after the lion and the tiger.
  • The jaguar likes to swim as much as climb trees.
  • Cheetah chicks blend in with their surroundings but have a lower survival rate than other species and, in fact, breeding in captivity is seldom successful.
  • The leopard and the jaguar are more ferocious than the cheetah, avoiding all contact with humans out of fear, while the cheetah can feel a certain curiosity, which has contributed to the extinction of more subspecies of this than of the others. make an easier target for poachers and those looking to catch you.
  • A) Yes, all three species are threatened by poaching and in some countries for legal sport hunting. In some cases they are hunted looking for a "trophy" or for their skin and in other situations they are captured alive. For example, cheetahs are sold as "exotic pets" as they are less ferocious, something illegal in many countries but with loopholes in others.
  • The cheetah o Acinonyx jubatus is the only survivor of the genre Acinonyx.

If you want to read more articles similar to Difference between leopard, cheetah and jaguar, we recommend that you enter our Wild Animals category.

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