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People often confuse between Jaguar, Leopard and Cheetah as they are of approximately same height and with spots on their bodies, but if we investigate properly we will find there are many key differences among them including their habitat, diet, hunting style, morphology, and vocalization.
Cheetahs are shaped so differently from other wild cats that they are their own genus. They have a rangy greyhound-like thinner body frame with deep chest and narrow waist. They have solid, round, polka-type black spots measuring 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.2 in) across. These spots are not “rosettes” like the jaguars and leopards have. There are no spots on their white underside, but the tail, which usually ends in a bushy white tuft, does have spots that merge to form four to six dark rings at the end. Cheetahs have a small head in proportion to their bodies to streamline their running. Eyes are set high on the skull. They have black “tear lines” running from the corner of their both eyes down the sides of the nose to their mouth.
Weighing from 35 to 72 kg (77 to 160 lb), the total head-and-body length of an adult animal is from 110 to 150 cm (43 to 59 in), while the tail can measure 60 to 84 cm (24 to 33 in) in length. Cheetahs are 70 to 95 cm tall at the shoulder. Cheetah prefers grazing animals of approximately 30 to 40 pounds such as gazelles and impalas. It will also eat hares and some birds.
Cheetah, the fastest running land animal, has longer hind legs and suppler spine, allowing its stride to go up to 23 feet (that is why it is so fast). Its claws do not fully retract (known only in three other cat species: the Iriomote cat, fishing cat and the flat-headed cat) like the jaguar and leopard which enables it to have better ground-grip in its high-speed pursuits which can reach 112 to 120 km/h (70 and 75 mph) in short bursts. Though they are champion of speed, but at the same time they lack the claw-grip which other cats have while seizing the prey. This also makes cheetahs unable to climb trees like the leopards and jaguars do. However, they are often seen sitting on the the lower branches of trees where they reach by jumping off the ground. They hunt during day and track the prey using their sight. Fastest running animal on earth it can chase the prey at speeds exceeding 60mph for short bursts Cheetahs latch onto the throat of their prey and strangle it. They sometimes live alone, but over half of observed cheetahs hunt in groups of two or three.
The ligament structure of cheetah’s claws is the same as those of other cats, but the difference is that it simply lacks the sheath or covering of skin and fur found in other varieties; consequently the claws are always visible, with the exception of the dewclaw, which is commonly referred to as Dog’s thumb. The dewclaw itself is much shorter and straighter than that of other cats.
Adaptations that enable cheetah to run fast include large nostrils that allow for increased oxygen intake, and a larger than normal heart and lungs that work together to circulate oxygen efficiently. During the chase, cheetah’s respiratory rate increases from 60 to 150 breaths per minute. While sprinting, in addition to having good traction due to its semi-retractable claws, the animal uses its tail as a rudder to maintain the balance of the body and to allow it to make sharp turns, necessary to outflank prey animals that often make such turns to escape.
Despite being large in size cheetahs are not the member of ‘Big cats’ club that includes only tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards. Reason is they cannot roar like the other four; they can purr as they inhale. They like to live mainly in an open biotope, such as semi-desert, savannahs, grasslands, and thick brush, though they can be found in a variety of habitats.
Cheetah is a vulnerable species. Of all the larger cats, it is the least able to adapt to new environments. Perhaps due to this reason it has always proved difficult to breed in captivity, although a few zoos have managed to succeed at this recently. Cheetahs are not known for attacking people or man-eating.
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Leopards are often confused with two other spotted cats, cheetahs and the jaguars, but the fact is the patterns of spots in each species are different. While Cheetahs have evenly spread simple spots, jaguars have smaller spots inside the polygonal rosettes. Leopards normally have smaller and rounder rosettes than those of the jaguars. In addition to this leopards are larger and much more muscular as compared to cheetahs, but slightly smaller and more lightly built if compared with the jaguars.
Smaller than other members of Panthera genus leopards are usually solitary, but highly agile and depend on stealth to hunt. Despite being smaller in size this predator is quite capable of taking larger prey given its massive skull that well utilizes powerful jaw muscles. Animal’s tail reaches 60 to 110 cm (24 to 43 in), whereas head and body length is between 125 and 165 cm (49 and 65 in). Body is comparatively long for a cat and the legs are short. Shoulder can reach up to 80 cm (31 inches) in height. Greatly diverse in size, male leopards can reach weight of 91 kg (66 to 200 lb).
Apart from the size leopards also show a great diversity in physical appearance, particularly because of the large variation in color coat and rosette patterns. Its rosettes are circular in East Africa but tend to be a bit squarer in southern Africa and larger in Asian populations. Yellow coat tends to be paler and cream colored in desert populations, more gray in colder habitats, and of a darker golden shade in rainforests. Overall, the fur under the belly tends to be lighter in color and of a softer, downy type. Solid black spots in place of open rosettes are generally seen along the face, limbs and underbelly.
Leopard is a highly agile animal and can easily climb trees.The muscles attached to the scapula are exceptionally strong, which enhances the cat’s ability to climb. For them trees are real safe haven. During the day they usually rest on tree branches so that other big cats, like lions and tigers, can not disturb them.Leopard’s power is such that it can carry the victim up to three times its own weight to the tree. It is the only big cat known to carry dead prey up onto a tree. They descend from trees headfirst. They are powerful swimmers, although not as strong as some other big cats, such as tigers. Their running speed is also fairly good and can reach over 58 kilometers per hour (36 mph). They can leap over six meters (20 ft) horizontally and jump up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) vertically.
Leopards are highly versatile and opportunistic predators. While in open savannah, they are most successful during night and when in forested areas where there is advantage of being hidden by dense foliage and breaking shadows they may hunt during the day. They stalk their prey silently. At the last moment pounce upon it, grab the throat and strangle it with a quick and powerful bite.
Data collected in 1996 showed that leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, found mostly in certain parts of southern Asia and widely in eastern and central Africa.
Like their cousins, tigers, leopards too usually avoid people. Humans may be targeted as prey in special situations. Healthy leopards usually prefer their natural prey to humans, but the sick, injured or struggling cats with a shortage of regular prey may resort to man-eating and become habituated to it.
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The third-largest feline after tiger and lion, jaguar (Panthera onca) is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. It is the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere whose present range extends from Southern US and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.
Jaguars are found in the rain forests of South and Central America, open and seasonally flooded wetlands and dry grassland habitat. They usually prefer dense rainforests.
This animal has the strongest bite of all felids. It is capable of biting down with 2,000 pounds-force (8,900 N), which is twice the strength of a lion and the second powerful of all mammals after the spotted hyena; It allows the jaguar to pierce turtle shells. The strength of the cat is such that an individual can drag a 360 kg (800 lb) bull 8 m (25 ft) in its jaws and crush the strongest bones. To employ an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of its prey between the ears to deliver a fatal bite to the brain.
It is often said that leopards and jaguars look alike. However, when the supple body of the leopard and the sturdy frame of the jaguar are compared, it becomes clear that the resemblance is primarily in the spotted coat. Even there, a signal difference can be seen. Rosettes on jaguars vary over individual coats and between individual animals: They may include one or several dots, and even the shapes of dots vary. Most rosettes have a black spot in the center, separated from the out ring by the animal’s yellow ground color. Spots found on the head and neck are generally solid, as are those on the tail.
Jaguar has rounder head and shorter, stockier limbs making it adept at climbing, crawling and swimming like leopard. Both these cats have over 500 voluntary muscles, which they can use at will. These opportunistic and stalk-and-ambush predators are largely solitary and are at the top of the food chain, usually called an apex predator.
Jaguars are compact and well-muscled cats. Their weight and size vary to a large extent: weight is generally in the range of 56–96 kilos (124–211 lb). Larger males have been recorded as heavy as 160 kilos (350 lb) (almost equal to a lioness or tigress). In length jaguars vary from 1.2 to 1.95 m (3.9 to 6.4 ft), with their tails adding another 45 to 75 cm (18 to 30 in). They stand 63 to 76 cm (25 to 30 in) tall at the shoulders.
Jaguar’s favourite prey is herbivores weighing up to 300 kilograms (660 lb). Its base coat is usually tawny yellow, but can range to reddish-brown and black. Rosettes on head and neck are usually solid, as are those on the tail, where they may merge to form a band. Throat, outer surface of the legs, underbelly and the lower flanks are white.