I have had a lot of people asking me what is the difference between cheetahs, leopards and jaguars. Now, I don’t want to sound as if I know everything about these majestic cats, simply because I don’t. So I’d try my best to explain the differences between them from my own knowledge.

To identify the differences between these cats, it’s always easier to start with the similarities. The biggest similarity that all 3 of them have is that all of them are spotted!

However, our first difference starts here.

  • Cheetahs have solid black spots all over their body.
  •  Leopards, on the other paw, have rosettes similar to that of a jaguar’s, but are smaller and more densely packed.
  • Finally, Jaguars have small dots and irregular markings within larger, dark rosettes.

Another difference between these felines would be their habitat.

  • Cheetahs and Leopards are both found in Africa while the Jaguar is native to South America.
  •  Despite being from the same continent, cheetahs prefer open savannah grasslands where their speed can be fully utilized.
  • Leopards prefer wooded scrub where there is plentiful cover and trees for them to hunt prey. The Leopard is probably the most widespread of the 3, being found in India, Malaysia, Indonesia and China.
  •  Jaguars live in the Amazon rainforest.

Hunting technique can also be used to differentiate these cats.

  • Cheetahs, being land’s fastest mammal, is naturally a sprinter and can run up to speeds of 70 miles per hour. Their favourite prey is the Thompson’s Gazelle. Furthermore, cheetahs prefer to hunt in midday where other large predators are mostly sleeping.  By doing so, they minimize the likelihood of them losing prey to stronger rivals.
  • Leopards are masters of stealth, preferring to stalk their prey as close as possible before striking. There are also cases where leopards attack prey from above, using trees as a height advantage. They are nocturnal cats.
  • The Jaguar, the largest of all three, has the strongest jaws of all big cats. They hunt a variety of prey such as peccaries, capybaras and caimans.

Finally, the way these cats are built can also be used to differentiate them.

  • Cheetahs are the slimmest of all being built for speed.
  • Leopards are stockier than cheetahs.
  • Jaguars are the largest of all 3. As mentioned above, they have the strongest bite of all big cats, usually killing prey with a bite to the skull.

Hopefully the pictures below would make the differences between these cats more obvious.