Reptiles as principal prey? Adaptations for durophagy and prey selection by jaguar (Panthera onca)

Everton B.P. Miranda, Jorge Menezes, Marcelo L. Rheingantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


ABSTRACT: We examined the evidence supporting the hypothesis that jaguars (Panthera onca) have morphological and behavioural adaptations to facilitate reptile predation. Jaguars’ head and bite features show adaptations to durophagy (consumption of hard-integumented prey) that are very unusual within the genus Panthera. These include: thick canines, well-developed head muscles and a fatal bite directed to braincase or nape. These characteristics have been previously considered an adaptation for the consumption of reptilian prey, whose thick integument poses a challenge to predation. Although causation of any trait as result of natural selection is hard to demonstrate with ecological evidence, its consequences can be suggested and predictions made. Here, through a review of the literature on jaguar predatory habits, we tallied the evidence for saurophagy against environmental characteristics correlated with jaguar predation on reptiles. We offer a new explanation for the presence of those traits, based on the selection patterns, prey abundances and main predation habits over the geographic range of the jaguar. We believe that these features allow jaguars to overcome dangerous and/or armoured prey by dispatching them rapidly through a bite to the head or nape. Reptile consumption is restricted to areas of high reptile abundance while dangerous or armoured prey is consistently preyed upon throughout the jaguar’s distribution, and selected even when their abundance is low. This questions the validity of the saurophagy hypothesis. We believe that these results are relevant to jaguar conservation and management, because some of the main prey species are severely threatened over their range, and because threatened reptiles are also consumed as prey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2021-2035
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Natural History
Issue number31-32
StatePublished - 25 Aug 2016


  • Dangerous prey
  • Tayassuidae
  • Xenarthra
  • saurophagy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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