“Each hill has its own tigre,” a Mexican proverb says. With black spots spread over a tan coat, stretching five feet (1.5 m) and weighing 200 pounds (90 kg), the typical jaguar resembles a muscular spotted leopard. Although hunted since prehistory, and now endangered, the jaguar lives on in the Puerto Vallarta region, where it hunts along thickly forested stream bottoms and foothills. Unlike the mountain lion, the jaguar will eat any game. Jaguars have even been known to wait patiently for fish in rivers and to stalk beaches for turtle and egg dinners. If they have a favorite food, it is probably the piglike wild peccary (jabalí). Experienced hunters agree that no two jaguars will have the same prey in their stomachs.
Although humans have died of wounds inflicted by cornered jaguars, there is little or no hard evidence that they eat humans, despite legends to the contrary.
Armadillos, Coatis, and Bats
Armadillos are cat-sized mammals that act and look like opossums but carry reptilianlike shells. If you see one, remain still, and it may walk right up and sniff your foot before it recognizes you and scuttles back into the woods.
A common inhabitant of the tropics is the raccoonlike coati (tejón, pisote). In the wild, coatis like shady stream banks, often congregating in large troops of 15–30 individuals. They are identified by their short brown or tan fur, small round ears, long nose, and straight, vertically held tail. With their endearing and inquisitive nature, coatis are often kept as pets; the first coati you see may be one on a string offered for sale at a local market.
Mexican bats (murciélagos) are widespread, with at least 126 species (compared to 37 in the United States). In Mexico, as everywhere, bats are feared and misunderstood. As sunset approaches, many species come out of their hiding places and flit through the air in search of insects. Most people, sitting outside enjoying the early evening, will mistake their darting silhouettes for those of birds, who, except for owls, do not generally fly at night.
Bats are often locally called vampiros, even though only three relatively rare Mexican species actually feed on the blood of mammals—nearly always cattle—and of birds.
The many nonvampire Mexican bats carry their vampire cousins’ odious reputation with forbearance. They go about their good works, pollinating flowers, clearing the air of pesky gnats and mosquitoes, ridding cornfields of mice, and dropping seeds, thereby restoring forests.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition