What's the Difference Between a Jaguar and a Leopard?

Is that dangerously adorable big cat a leopard or a jaguar? (Hint: check out its spots.) 

They're both spotted, toothy, whiskered, and huge. How can you tell jaguars and leopards apart? Plenty of differences can tip you off, including anatomy, behavior, and geographic ranges.

Let’s start with their gorgeous fur. Both felines are covered with large, flower-shaped blotches called rosettes. In jaguars like the one pictured below, these rosettes frequently contain little black spots. Leopard rosettes don't. Also, jaguar rosettes tend to be larger.

The head’s another dead giveaway: a jaguar’s noggin is markedly bigger and broader. That’s because these particular cats, which have the jaws of any feline, have an especially brutal method of killing prey. They drive their tough canines straight through skull bones and into brains. Ouch! Leopards, meanwhile, favor finesse, and prefer suffocating their prey with a well-placed bite to the throat.

If a leopard and jaguar stood side by side, you’d notice certain key differences in overall body type as well. By comparison, leopards are much slimmer creatures with longer limbs and tails. Whereas jag chests are barrel-shaped, leopard torsos look rather sleek. Just feast your eyes on this one:

Lightly built leopards are far better at climbing trees—though jaguars still do so anyway. On the other hand, whereas jags live around rivers and swim a lot, savannah-dwelling leopards will go out of their way to avoid any unnecessary contact with water.

Speaking of habitats, we haven’t touched on geography yet. Wild jaguars can be found from northeastern Argentina all the way up to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (however, U.S. sightings are rare). Leopards are strictly old world felines that roam huge swaths of Africa and Asia.

So what’s the deal with panthers? Are they members of team jaguar or team leopard? Both. The word “panther” is nothing more than an umbrella term that simply means “big cat.” At the end of the day, leopards, jaguars, and cougars are all called “panthers” on occasion.

That's why any jaguar or leopard with an especially dark coat gets billed as a “black panther.” The fur of these gorgeous animals contains unusually high levels of the pigment melanin, which gives them a charcoal hue that almost completely obscures their rosettes.  

And as for that dangerously adorable cat in the top image? It's a leopard.

All images courtesy of iStock

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
iStock
iStock

Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
iStock
iStock

Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios