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I have always loved the fursuit uniform of the Aztec Ocelotl warrior:

ocelotl

But, to my great disappointment, it turns out that in reality the suit was not made out of an actual jaguar pelt: the helmets were in fact wooden and the body part painted cotton. That's more animal-friendly, but less badass.

I want to know if it makes sense for the rich (who can afford it) to wear actual jaguar fur, and taxidermied heads for helmets. Assuming that the dimensions work out. My concern is more whether it would make for suitable armour.

Note that this theoretical suit would be made with armour as its primary function. The word "taxidermy" may not apply perfectly well. My intent is that you have a jaguar pelt, you treat and reinforce it in some manner (as long as it retains the appearance of the animal) and you put it on to go to war.

Specific concerns that determine armour suitability for this thing:

  • The suit should hold up against the weapons of the time - those being sharp slicing weapons as well as arrows and spears - to a comparable extent as the cotton armours they really used. Fur armour is a common fantasy trope - even if its historicity is questionable - so I expect that it should have some resistance. Cotton with fur on top is also an option.
  • The suit should last, it should not rot like a carcass. Regular taxidermies and fur coats can both last for decades, so this should not be a problem.
  • The suit should be usable in the tropical climate. It did suit the jaguar without trapping too much heat, so I have faith it should do the same for a person.

I also wish to keep using the jaguar's skull; both to shape the jaguar's head and to help protect the wearer's head. There can be padding inside to make it fit, perhaps even wooden reinforcement if necessary, should the bone become brittle as it dries out.

What do you think, could this work as armour? Do I have any of the above plainly wrong, and/or are there any other weaknesses that would make this suit a poor fit for the battlefield?

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    $\begingroup$ Is a Jaguar immune is slashing and stabbing? $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Apr 25 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @DTCooper I said "generally resistant", not immune. It should be comparable to the cotton armours that the Aztecs of the time wore. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 25 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ I would imagine a jaguar skull being too narrow to serve as a helmet... and wearing it as a loose cap would be more of a liability than a benefit, as it would concentrate incoming blows to a smaller area of the human skull instead of distributing them more evenly. $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak I think the dimensions are within the acceptable range. I could even imagine really wealthy Aztecs hunting down particularly broad faced jaguars specifically. And there would be some padding on the inside to help distribute the impact: the point of the skull would be to prevent anything pointy from penetrating it. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 25 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ the image in this post might show you exactly why a jaguar skull doesn't make for a good helmet, even if it was broader. Also, something good to remember is that aztecs didn't like dying for no reason, so if there aren't any known cases of jaguar hide armor, especially when they believed its hide to have magical properties, chances are that it's because it wasn't as effective as the armor they already used. $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 22:02
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<1 out of 3 feasible

Looking at the three concerns specifically mentioned in reverse order:

  • Usable in a tropical climate - simply no. It suits a jaguar because, as per the link:

The jaguar uses a stalk-and-ambush strategy when hunting, rather than chasing prey. The cat will walk slowly down forest paths, listening for and stalking prey before rushing or ambushing. The jaguar attacks from cover and usually from a target's blind spot with a quick pounce

The jaguar is also primarily "active" during the night (or daytime in heavily shaded forests) and, like most big cats, pants or goes swimming to cool off.

None of this applies to humans. Humans warriors in primitive societies are primarily active during the day, tend to engage in prolonged medium-to-high intensity activity during hottest periods (rather than a slow wander followed by a brief pounce) and rely on perspiration for cooling rather than panting. Thin cotton leg and arm coverings are porous enough to allow effective cooling and even quilted cotton torso protection can be made breathable, but tight fur is not an option. Speaking from experience - in a tropical environment wearing a helmet, body armour, loose-fitting long-sleeve cotton shirt and cotton trousers is bearable but unpleasant. Heat exhaustion will nail you if wearing anything less breathable while exercising for any extended period.

  • The suit should last - no, not while being worn regularly in a tropical climate. The link you provided on fur coats has another Q&A a little further down asking "how do I protect my furs in the off season", to which the answer is:

The best way to ensure that your fur will last for many years is to have it professionally cleaned and stored through the off-season by your local retail furrier in a temperature- and humidity-controlled storage vault.

Another site provides this advice:

FUR HATES THE HEAT BUT LOVES THE COLD

Nothing shortens the life of your fur like keeping it in your closet during a long, hot summer. If at all possible, we suggest you store your fur garments in cold storage when you have finished wearing it for the season, this is one of the most important steps you can take in preserving your furs.

In short, fur garments can last a long time if kept carefully in the right environment. The Aztecs are not in the right environment.

  • The suit should hold up against the weapons of the time. For reasons discussed in other answers, unreinforced fur isn't up to the task - jaguars aren't especially proof against arrows or spears and their resistance to blunt force trauma is more due to their musculature than their skin. However, putting the same quilted cotton armour "1 1/2 to 2 fingers thick" under the fur should give it the same or possibly slightly superior protective qualities compared to the same quilted cotton armour alone.

This one is hard to be certain on - layering materials on top of armour sometimes has unexpected or counterintuitive consequences, where an additional layer can actually make things worse by making certain weapons more likely to "dig in" and do damage rather than ricochet off. I cannot see any way to test this particular scenario without extensive testing using reconstructed armour and weapons - this would be really fun to do, but I lack the time and budget.

As for using the skull of a jaguar as a helmet - the skull really isn't the right shape and even the skull of the largest jaguar known would be too small to fit a midget's head. In order to use a jaguar skull as a helmet it would require a skull about twice as wide as that of the widest known specimen and then would still need extensive carving to take out the internal structure. The eye sockets of the skull would be a massive weakness if the wearer was attacked from the side. So even disregarding the size issue (which also applies to the legs and arms of the suit) a jaguar skull would be a poor helmet for a human warrior.

My advice at the end of this for the well-off Ocelotl warrior with an excess of money and willingness to be uncomfortable is:

  • Embed part of the skull of a jaguar into the top of your helmet if you need the authenticity, but keep the wooden structure for protection.
  • Put jaguar hide over your torso armour but be careful of overheating and be prepared to replace it every year or so, as fur does not like the heat, crushing or most cleaning methods.
  • Retain single-layer cotton garments on the arms and legs.
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  • $\begingroup$ The most detailed answer, both refuting my errors and providing a way it could still sorta work. That's why I come to Worldbuilding.SE :) Thank you! $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 30 at 15:08
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Mostly, no.

The processing of the skin in Taxidermy is focused on retaining the natural appearance as closely as possible. Flexibility and durability are distant secondary goals. Wearbility is not even considered. Very often, the chemicals used in taxidermy to process a natural pelt are quite toxic.

For leathermaking, the opposite is true. Durability is paramount, with strong attention to wearability, safety (no toxins, no allergens, no dye transfer), and some attention to appearance and texture.

For armor the same is true with an even more different balance. Strength and durability are paramount, while comfort and appearance are of secondary concern.

Simply put, taxidermied Jaguar will look very impressive, but will not be waterproof, safe or easy to wear, and will have the damage resistance of wet paper towels.

Great for ceremonies, suicidal to wear into battle.

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  • $\begingroup$ Clothing made out of pelts is not uncommon, and those can be waterproof and durable. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 25 at 20:04
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The reason why the jaguar pelt is not a good armor is that is does not offer good defense against common Aztec weapons. One real common weapon was simply a handle with a good sized rock embedded in the end. A wooden helmet offers much better protection against that. You state that the jaguar fur protected the jaguar, but that was also in context of an animal that could move much faster in tight places than humans can. The jaguar does not depend on its pelt for defense, but relies on its claws and teeth. The cotton armor is not simply something like jeans material. It is possible to process cotton so that it is much thicker with interlocking fibers that resist stabbing or cutting where the pelt would not.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, those are good considerations. I do wonder if you could make cotton armour but have the top layer be the jaguar skin, and achieve some similarity.. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 25 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ What also protects the jaguar in its skin against the bruising impact of a club is the super-powerful and super effective arrangement of muscles. So while it takes damage and it suffers pain, the strikes are still not critical to its vital systems as the muscles can take up and disperse the impact. (Exception being the head, obviously.) A human, in comparison, is not built to be as robust as a big cat. $\endgroup$
    – Levente
    Apr 26 at 0:17
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Yes. The trick is to put a taxedermied jaguar pelt on top of normal armor.

Would it protect as well as competing armors?
It took me almost 30 minutes to find a reliable source, but Aztec armor includes the ichcahuipilli and the amatzoncalli. The former is made of cotton or wool, and the latter is made of paper. It should be easy to sow or glue a pelt on top of these materials. The helmet would not be made from a jaguar skull, but it would look like one.

Would it last as long as competing armors?
The armor could to stored in a cool place to preserve the pelt's quality. Assuming the competing armors were not designed to last through many battles, by the time the heat damaged the pelt the armor would have to be replaced anyway.

Is it suitable for a tropical climate?
From a physics point of view, layering anything on top of anything increases insulation. The greater this effect is regarding jaguar fur, the more energy the jaguar needs to spend on thermoregulation. This heavily implies that the armor's additional layer would not significantly increase the insulation of the armor, assuming the taxidermy process does not cause anything weird to happen.

Would warriors desire cosmetic changes such as this?
You did not ask this question, but since the pelt is purely cosmetic this is a reasonable question to ask considering how much effort is needed to kill a jaguar. Some medieval armor included a metal codpiece (SFW, but you may get some weird looks). I think the effort of mining, smelting, and forging metal is comparable to that of killing a jaguar, but I do not have a citation for this.

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