Jaguar & Leopard
Credit: Jaguar: Wikipedia photo by Bjorn Christian Torrissen, CC BY-SA 3.0. Leopard: Public domain photo.

Jaguar in Belize (left) and leopard in China (right). 

Jaguars and leopards: Two of the largest cats on Earth

Do you know the differences between jaguars and leopards? Do you know where each animal lives?

I'm sure most people know that each is one of the largest cat species, and that they have a similar appearance. These two species in fact would never meet in the wild, as jaguars live in the Americas and leopards live in Africa and Asia.[1]

Beyond this, I will share facts below about these fantastic animals, and by the end you should have a pretty clear idea of the differences between them. Big cats are my very favorite animals, and I hope my love for them shows on this page.

Where jaguars and leopards live

Map: Where Jaguars & Leopards Live
Credit: Created by TanoCalvenoa on InfoBarrel using NASA public domain background image.

As can be seen on this map, the two species would never meet in the wild. Jaguars live in the Americas, and Leopards live in Africa and Asia.[1] The ranges for each species were once much more extensive.[2][3]

The main differences between jaguars and leopards

They obviously look similar, and this and more about their similarities are discussed further below. Here we’ll highlight some of the major differences between each species.

(1) As seen in the map above, they would never meet in the wild because they live on separate continents. Jaguars live in South America, Central America, and parts of North America as far north as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, USA. Leopards live in Africa, Asia, and the islands of Sri Lanka and Java.[2][3]

There is one leopard subspecies that lives in the Caucasus Mountains, which are considered part of Europe.[3]

(2) Jaguars are the larger of the two. Only tigers and lions are larger than jaguars, whereas tigers, lions, jaguars, and mountain lions are each larger than leopards. Jaguars average 125 to 215 lbs (57 to 98 kg), and large males can reach 350 lbs (159 kg).[2][3][4]

Leopards vary quite a bit in size depending upon the subspecies and where they live, and overall average 50 to 140 lbs (23 to 64 kg), with some large males just topping 200 lbs (91 kg). The largest surpass the smallest jaguars in size.[2][3]

(3) Jaguars are very muscularly built and have the most powerful bite of any cat, including lions and tigers. Leopards are the most similar to jaguars of all cats, although jaguars are more sturdily constructed.[2][3]

Something jaguars do that other cats don’t, taking advantage of their powerful jaws, is that to kill prey they bite through the back of the skull and into the brain of their victim. They can also bite into tortoise shells. Of all mammals, only the spotted hyena has a stronger bite in proportion to the animal's size.[2]

(4) Leopards are much better at climbing trees, due to not being as large of an animal. They climb and rest in trees all the time, and uniquely drag prey (such as a dead antelope or deer) up into trees for storage, such as to keep their food away from hyenas or other predators.[3]

(5) Jaguars attacking humans are an extremely rare occurrence. Leopards on the other hand will attack humans much more commonly (discussed more further below), and will be more bold with it than other cats (such as tigers or lions) and actually enter human habitations.[2][3]

Normally leopards prefer natural prey, although some have killed humans and then become accustomed to it, and some individuals have killed more than one hundred people before finally being stopped. They are extremely difficult to track and hunt, very elusive and intelligent. And they can see in the dark seven times better than humans, and mostly hunt at night.[3]

(6) There are other differences in appearance besides size and stockiness. Both have yellowish fur with black spots, although on a jaguar the spots are larger, fewer in number, and usually darker. They often have thicker outer lines with spots in the middle, which leopards usually don’t have. Jaguars also have a rounder shape to their heads.[2][3]


Credit: Public domain photo.

Jaguars have a stockier and more muscular appearance. Leopards however are not much less powerful.[2][3]

The main similarities of jaguars and leopards

(1) Both species are in the same genus, Panthera, which is also shared by lions and tigers. These four species of cat are the largest in the world, except that mountain lions (a.k.a. cougars) of the Americas are larger on average than leopards. These five species are the largest cats.[1][4]

(2) Leopards and jaguars, and the other Panthera species, are all able to roar. Other cats, including mountain lions, cannot roar.[1][2][3][4]

(3) Leopards and jaguars are both good swimmers, and have no fear of swimming in water when needed. Jaguars are slightly better at.[2][3]

(4) Leopards and jaguars are thought to have a common ancestor, and the two species diverged about two million years ago. At that time North America and Asia were connected via a land bridge, and jaguars spread through the Americas while leopards spread through Asia, Africa, and Europe.[2][3]

(5) Both species can live in a variety of climates, although leopards are slightly more adaptable. Each is found in rainforests, deserts, and grasslands.[2][3]

(6) Both species can have individuals solid black in color, often called black panthers. Some other smaller cat species exhibit this as well.[2][3]

(7) Both species live solitarily, and individuals command large areas. This is common with cats, as very few species form any kind of social groups. The most social cats by far are lions. [2][3][5]


Leopard in a Tree
Credit: Public domain photo.

Leopards are excellent tree climbers, and carry their prey (even a large antelope or deer) up into trees to eat in peace, away from pests such as hyenas and jackals.[3]

Man-eating leopards

There is a leopard that killed more than 400 people in Northern India. Dubbed the Panar Leopard, this beast was finally stopped in 1910, after several years of terror, by British hunter Jim Corbett.[3]

According to Corbett in a book he wrote, these animals can acquire a taste for human flesh when a disease epidemic causes human corpses to be thrown from villages into jungles. The leopards may eat them, especially if other food is scarce, and then they become accustomed to the taste and prefer from then on to feed upon humans.[6]

If you’ve ever seen the unbelievably scary movie The Ghost and the Darkness, which is based on a true story from Kenya in Africa, those lions did less damage than some of these leopards.[7]

Black leopard and black jaguar

Also called black panthers

Black Leopard & Black Jaguar
Credit: Wikipedia photos by Cburnett (jaguar) and Qilinmon (leopard).

Left: jaguar, right: leopard.

Clouded leopard

Clouded Leopard
Credit: Wikipedia photo by Dr. Raju Kasambe, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Clouded leopards are a separate species of cat from true leopards, and are native to Southeast Asia.

Other species with "leopard" as part of their name

There are four other species of cat that have “leopard” as part of their name.[8] They are:

(1) Snow leopard, of the high mountainous regions in Central Asia.

(2) Clouded leopard, of Southeast Asia.

(3) Sunda clouded leopard, found in Sumatra and Borneo. This was once thought to be a subspecies of the clouded leopard, and in 2006 was determined to be a separate species.

(4) Leopard cat, a small wild cat found throughout South and Southeast Asia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo.

Jaguar hunting and attacking a caiman

Filmed in South America by National Geographic crew