Jaguars are the biggest and burliest of the New World's big cats, and rank third behind lions and tigers among the largest in the world. Packed in muscle and wielding some of the strongest jaws for their size in the cat family, they sit comfortably atop the Neotropical food web, and while elusive as heck, they sometimes permit human beings to witness them fulfil their trophic status in dramatic fashion.

Photographer Chris Brunskill caught the sequence of a lifetime along the Three Brothers River (Rio Tres Irmaos) in the Brazilian Pantanal earlier this week: a jaguar taking down what Brunskill called in a Facebook post "the biggest jacare caiman I have ever seen during my time on the river in Pantanal".

The shoreline struggle between big cat and (big) caiman lasted some 20 minutes, but this wasn't exactly a tit-for-tat battle: it was a predatory exercise by a born-and-bred crocodilian-hunter.

Brunskill's epic photos show the jaguar administering some fierce throat chokeholds, but the photographer reported on Facebook that the killing bite – in typical jaguar fashion – was delivered to the back of the caiman's skull. This is how these low-slung, rosette-splattered, heavy-headed bruisers commonly dispatch larger prey, from capybaras to the odd black bear.

In his post, Brunskill said the jaguar, which he tracked for roughly an hour before it nabbed its reptilian repast, had made an unsuccessful sortie upon a group of capybara (the biggest rodents on earth) not long before.

A few jaguar attacks on caimans have previously been caught on film, including this well-publicised ambush of an oblivious mudbank-basking victim:

And then there's this one, which captures a jaguar's diving leap and underwater strike to wrestle out its quarry:

Brunskill's amazing image series, though, may just take the cake in terms of the relative size of the jaguar's scaly saurian meal, which the carnivore nonetheless manages to haul off into the tangles quite handily.

It's a highly respectable display of feline strength and moxie, and a reminder that large crocodilians – for all their obvious power and a 250-million-year-long track record as ecological heavy-hitters – aren't immune from periodic predation. Big cats are among the few creatures capable of tackling a full-grown crocodilian under the right circumstances (and the reverse is true as well). While tigers and lions certainly hunt these formidable beasts on occasion, the jaguar overall is probably the most frequent croc-stalker of the bunch.

Caimans, after all, aren't incidental meals for jaguars, but rather linchpin prey items in many areas of the cats' range, including the flooded bottomland rainforests of the Amazon Basin and the great marshlands of the Pantanal, among the planet's biggest wetlands.

Studies in the Pantanal have revealed that jaguars target caimans across a broad size range. And these recent snapshots certainly prove they aren't afraid to pounce upon some genuine honkers.



Top header image: Nano Maus/Flickr