The largest wild cat in North America, the mountain lion or puma is a secretive, solitary creature. These powerful predators can survive in all sorts of habitats, from swamps in Louisiana and Florida to the craggy mountains of the West.
1. Scientific & Common Names
4. Present Status
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Carnivora
Family - Felidae
Genus – Puma
Species – P. concolor
Common Names – Puma, Cougar, Mountain Lion, Catamount, Panther (more commonly used with Jaguars and Leopards), Red Tiger, Deer Tiger, Painter, Florida Panther (only the Florida subspecies) - the Puma is believed to have more common names than any other animal
Mountain lions are catlike in body shape and conformation. However, they are much larger than house cats or even bobcats. Mountain lions can be about 30 inches tall at the shoulder and 8 feet long from nose to tail. They have muscular bodies, weighing between 75 and 175 pounds on average. Mountain lions are covered with tawny, brown fur that is short and coarse. In colder climates, the coat of a mountain lion is likely to be lighter in color — almost a silver gray. In warmer climates, the coat is a darker, reddish brown.
They are well known for their golden eyes and touches of black fur on the ears and tail and around those intense eyes. They can weigh up to 260 pound, with males being considerably heavier than females. They have a broad, compact head and large paws with retractable claws. Their tails are extremely long, averaging about a third of their body length.
Females mate with the males whose range overlaps theirs and they and their young are afforded some protection from that territory. Males, however, have no role in raising the young. Females typically breed every few years and, after a three month gestation, give birth to 1-6 cubs. The young are weaned at three months and will then begin to leave the den with their mother. They begin to learn to hunt at six months and will leave their mother after about two years, although males tend to leave earlier.
Mountain lions live alone unless they are mating or mothers raising offspring. These big cats are quite territorial and mostly avoid one another. They have large and well established home territories and they tend to be solitary for the majority of their lives. The territories of males do not overlap, but female territories will often overlap with each other as well as with a male's.
They have extremely sensitive hearing and wonderful night vision. They are ambush killers, lying in wait before pouncing quickly on their prey. Their jaws are powerful enough to quickly break the necks of deer. Pumas primarily hunt hoofed animals like elk and moose, but they will go after smaller prey when the opportunity arises or when there are no larger animals available. Healthy adult pumas are at the top of the food chain but young or injured animals can fall prey to bear, wolves, or even other pumas.
At one time, mountain lions roamed over most of the United States. Because they threatened livestock, farmers feared and hated them. Hunters treasured them as game trophies. Loss of habitat and overhunting decimated panther populations in the East. By 1900, the lack of panthers and other large predators led to excessive populations of deer and other herbivores in eastern areas of the United States.
The ancestors of modern pumas emerged 1-3 million years ago and modern pumas appeared 100,000 years ago. They overlapped with saber toothed cats, but pumas survived, probably due to the flexibility of their range and diet while the more specialized sabers did not.
Because of their solitary lifestyles and secretive natures, getting a concrete count of the mountain lion population is challenging. Biologists estimate that there are probably about 30,000 mountain lions in the United States. Their habitat is mainly confined to the westernmost 14 states of the United States, as well as a small population in Florida called the Florida panther. The Florida panther population is estimated to be fewer than 100 panthers.
Pumas are officially listed as animals of least concern due primarily to the large range they still enjoy but there are subspecies in South America and Florida that are protected locally due to their dwindling numbers. They are considered near threatened in Brazil. Pumas were once readily found in the east and Midwest in America but they have not existed in those historical locations for centuries, at least not in any great numbers. Efforts have been made to introduce Texas pumas into Florida to prevent inbreeding of the Florida panther and the program seems to be a success.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Cougar: Ecology and Conservation by Maurice Hornocker and Sharon Negri
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals by Jr. John O. Whitaker