Rare Photos Capture Jaguar Hunting Anacondas in Brazil

These dramatic photos capture a battle between a jaguar and a yellow anaconda in the state of Mato Grosso, in western Brazil. These water-loving big cats live in the same places as the giant South American snake.

Wildlife photographer Chris Brunskill has traveled the planet for 20 years in search of wild big cats. But even he was shocked to capture this dramatic sequence of a battle between a jaguar and a yellow anaconda in the state of Mato Grosso, in western Brazil. These photos show a jaguar emerging from the brush in the Brazilian Pantanal to capture a yellow anaconda on the banks of the Cuiabá River. “I know of several people who have spent twenty years or more on the river and not had the good fortune to see what I saw last week,” Brunskill told the Telegraph shortly after the photographs were taken.

But how common is this fight? Why would a jaguar risk life and limb to attack one of the world’s largest snake species? And does a jaguar always win this battle?

A Jaguar In The Brazilian Pantanal Hunts An Anaconda
Jaguars, like most cats, are opportunistic hunters. Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

Generally speaking, wild cats hunt by walking around, looking for places where anything smaller than them might live, and hunting either with a chase or with a silent stalk-and-pounce. Jaguars are the latter type; they are ambush hunters, laying unseen until the perfect opportunity to strike. Jaguars, along with the other big cats—lions, tigers, and leopards—are all too big to run for long chases. They can sprint, and are incredibly quick, but they’re just too heavy for the classic cheetah-type chase.

Jaguar walking in a river
Any cat owner might wonder what a jaguar was doing in a river, anyway. CC BY-SA 2.0Bernard DUPONT/Wikipedia

Cats hate water, right? Well, no, not all of them. Jaguars, along with tigers and a few other, lesser-known species like the fishing cat, love the water, and tend to live right near some source of it. That helps, when you’re an opportunistic hunter: jaguars have been known to eat fish, frogs, and even sea turtles, all of which would be pretty tough to catch if you were as afraid of water as most domestic cats are. The jaguar’s bite is also strong enough to carry huge prey even while swimming; they’ve been seen carrying entire caimans, a huge reptile closely related to alligators and crocodiles.

Jaguar hunting anaconda in the jungle
The jaguar has the third-strongest bite of any wild cat, just after the lion and tiger, both of which are significantly larger animals.Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

That helps with the jaguar’s preferred killing method, which is a well-placed, insanely hard chomp. Jaguars will go for the throat on many prey species; their most common meals include the capybara (a gigantic rodent), wild boar, peccary (another wild pig), and even livestock, if they can find some. But for reptiles, they prefer to simply bite right through the head. That particular move isn’t pictured in this series, but it’s likely that to kill this snake, the jaguar bit it right on the noggin, possibly decapitating it.

Jaguar holding down a crocodile
Here you can see a rare photo of a jaguar attacking a caiman.Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

Caiman are common prey for jaguars; we know that by scat and stomach dissection. But it’s pretty rare to see this interaction in person. You can see the skull-bite method here: it’s aiming for the central vertebrae, right below the skull. Once the jaguar has pierced that, the caiman won’t be able to move, allowing the jaguar to carry its prey away at its leisure.

Jaguar on the prowl
Despite being not particularly picky in its diet, and despite its occasionally annoying habit of eating livestock, the jaguar is probably the least dangerous to humans of all the big cat species. CC BY-SA 2.0Gerry Zambonini (Zambog)/Wikimedia

Attacks are extremely rare and basically only occur when a jaguar is injured, cornered, and threatened; the normal jaguar move upon seeing a human is to run away as fast as possible, probably up a tree.

Jaguar playing with anaconda
Let’s talk about the other animal in this series of photos: the yellow anaconda. Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

This is one of the largest snake species in the world, commonly around 15 feet long and weighing 65 pounds; the one in these photos appears to be a bit smaller than that, but still pretty substantial. It is a boa constrictor, meaning that it does not produce venom and instead kills its prey by wrapping its body around it and squeezing. It lives throughout the jaguar’s range and is common in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Close up of yellow anaconda
Interestingly, the yellow anaconda actually likes a lot of the same food that the jaguar does, including those wild pig species and the capybara.Wikimedia

It also, just like the jaguar, loves water, preferring to live in swamps and along the edges of streams and rivers. In another, happier world, perhaps the yellow anaconda and the jaguar would be pals, swapping stories about the time that collared peccary took a swipe at them.

Jaguar attacking anaconda in the water
But in the real world, jaguars and anacondas are not pals. Yellow anacondas are not incredibly common food for jaguars, but jaguars are not known to ever be prey for yellow anacondas; the snakes are just not big or strong enough to take down as tough an animal as a jaguar.Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

This particular fight took over two minutes, with the anaconda striking out with its fangs multiple times, even making contact with the jaguar’s nose. But without venom, those wounds aren’t nearly enough to slow down a jaguar attack.

Anaconda coiled up
Here’s something weird: yellow anacondas mate in something known as a “mating ball” or “breeding ball.” CC BY-SA 2.0Bernard DUPONT/Wikimedia

In this behavior, which is found in lots of other snake species, a single female will be swarmed by multiple males, forming a knotted awful nightmare ball. Within the ball, males, which are smaller than the females, will fight and compete, sometimes for weeks on end. Then there’s the other downside for the males, which is that female yellow anacondas have been known to simply eat males after copulation. Not always, but the possibility is there.

A Jaguar In The Brazilian Pantanal Hunts An Anaconda
Let’s talk about this whole “big cat” thing, because you might have noticed we left out one more: the mountain lion, otherwise known as the cougar, puma, and sometimes panther. Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

Big cats are, technically speaking, those in the Panthera genus: the only cats with the capability to roar. Those are the lion, tiger, leopard, and jaguar. The mountain lion is a very large cat, but it cannot roar; it’s thought to be more closely related to smaller cats. There’s also the complicated issue of the snow leopard, which is most closely related to the tiger. It...is in Panthera and cannot roar. Taxonomy is sometimes confusing.

Side profile of a jaguar in the jungle
Jaguars are, like many cat species, solitary animals. CC BY 4.0Ashley Lee/Wikimedia

Typically each adult cat has its own territory; the males, which are larger, will have the largest territories, overlapping with those of several females. But they really don’t interact much in person, except to mate. Cubs will stay with their mothers for one or two years before heading out on their own. After that, animals will communicate with scent markings, but these are lonesome cats.

A Jaguar In The Brazilian Pantanal Hunts An Anaconda
Yellow anacondas are one of the many species that has been found in Florida, and absolutely, positively should not be found in Florida. Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

In early 2019, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission added the yellow anaconda to the state’s list of prohibited species. Why? Because they’ve been found several times in the Sunshine State. It’s not believed that there are breeding, permanent populations, unlike some invasive species in Florida, but these snakes—likely released or escaped pets—are capable of eating basically everything in the state.

Jaguar sunning himself
Jaguars, too, have been found unexpectedly in the United States, but not in Florida. CC BY-SA 4.0Ankitv2512/Wikimedia

The jaguar is thought of as a jungle cat, but it’s actually found in all kinds of environments, from rainforest to pampas plains to cloud forests to grasslands. Because it’s so adaptable, its range once stretched into the southern mountains of Arizona, and in fact there are at least a couple known to live there. In 2018, one of those Arizona jaguars was killed; it’s guessed accidentally, with the jaguar mistaken for a mountain lion.

A Jaguar In The Brazilian Pantanal Hunts An Anaconda
The yellow anaconda, unlike many other snake species, gives birth to live young rather than eggs. Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

Those young are encased within a thin membrane, and the baby snake’s first job is to tear its package open with a special baby tooth, used for only this purpose. Unlike the jaguar, which gives birth to usually two cubs, the yellow anaconda gives birth to dozens, usually around 30 at a time. Most of those will not survive; they’re easy prey for birds, racoons, caiman, foxes, and even domestic cats and dogs.

Jaguar playing with anaconda
Let’s talk about the other animal in this series of photos: the yellow anaconda. Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

This is one of the largest snake species in the world, commonly around 15 feet long and weighing 65 pounds; the one in these photos appears to be a bit smaller than that, but still pretty substantial. It is a boa constrictor, meaning that it does not produce venom and instead kills its prey by wrapping its body around it and squeezing. It lives throughout the jaguar’s range and is common in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Jaguar playing with anaconda
The battle between jaguars and anacondas, two of the most iconic species of the Brazilian Pantanal, is not necessarily a fair fight. Chris Brunskill LTD/Getty Images

Aside from some tooth-marks on the schnoz, this jaguar seems to have found a fairly easy meal. But the yellow anaconda is just as fundamental a part of this wetland ecosystem as its competitor.

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