Which big cat has the strongest bite?

BBC Wildlife section editor Sarah McPherson answers your wild question. 

Jaguar in the Pantanal, Brazil © Mike Lane / Getty

The jaguar has the strongest bite of any big cat relative to its size. Research by Adam Hartstone-Rose and colleagues at the University of South Carolina, who compared the bite forces of nine different cat species, reveals that a jaguar’s bite force is only three-quarters as strong as a tiger’s bite force.

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However, given that jaguars are considerably smaller (the body mass of the individual in the study was only half that of the tiger), relatively speaking their bite is stronger.

Jaguar with an open mouth showing its impressive canines and powerful jaws
A jaguar’s powerful jaw muscles give it a huge bite force concentrated through impressive canine teeth. © Carol Farneti Foster/Getty

“If you had to choose, you’d want to be bitten by a jaguar, not a lion or a tiger. But pound for pound, jaguars pack a stronger punch,” says Adam.

“The strength of the jaguar’s bite is due to the arrangement of its jaw muscles, which, relative to weight, are slightly stronger than those of other cats. In addition – also relative to weight – its jaws are slightly shorter, which increases the leverage for biting.”

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These two modifications, though minor, combine to give the jaguar the strongest relative bite force. Indeed, a jaguar can bite straight through the skull of its prey, and pierce the thick skin of a caiman with ease.

Jaguar dragging dead caiman through undergrowth © Nick Dale / Getty
A jaguar’s powerful jaws give it a huge bite force, easily capable of penetrating a caiman’s thick skin. © Nick Dale/Getty