A cougar (Puma concolor) is known to be a large Native American cat that belongs to the subfamily Felinae.
It can be found from the southern Andes in South America to the Canadian Yukon. It is also the widest of any wild terrestrial mammal throughout the Western Hemisphere.
The cougar adapts to any habitat and is also a generalist species found in most American Habitat. Due to its wide range, it has been known by various names, such as mountain lion, puma, painter, panther, and catamount.
The cougar is known to be the second-largest extant cat in the New World after the jaguar. It is a secretive and largely solitary animal, and it is considered as both crepuscular and nocturnal, although, it can be seen during the daytime.
The cougar is very similar to smaller felines, including the domestic cat than any species from the subfamily Pantherinae (of which the jaguar is the only still existing member).
The cougar hunts by ambushing its prey, and it also has a wide variety of prey. Its primary diet is from ungulates, especially deer. It also preys on smaller species like rodents or insects. It can adapt to any habitat but prefers habitat with rocky areas and dense underbrush for stalking.
The cougar is a territorial animal and it survives on low population densities. The territory size of a cougar depends on the vegetation, terrain, an abundance of prey.
The cougar isn’t always the predator, it has competitors of which it surrenders it kills. Such animals include the jaguar, grizzly bears, American black bears, American alligators, groups of coyotes, and grey wolves.
It mostly avoids contact with humans, even though it can survive in open areas. Although, fatal attacks on humans are rare, there have been reports indicating an increase in North America due to people entering cougar territory to build structures such as farms.
Cougars prefer to live a life of solitary except for female cougars, which live with their offsprings for a certain period of time.
- P. c. concolor found in South America, and possibly excluding the region northwest of the Andes.
- P. c. couguar found in Central and North America, and possibly the northwestern part of South America.
The family Felidae is presumed to have originated from Asia about 11 million years ago (mya). A genomic research on the Felidae indicate that the common ancestor of today’s Puma, Leopardus, Prionailurus, Lynx, and Felis lineage migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas 8.0 – 8.5 million years ago (mya).
The lineage gradually diverged, leaving the North American felids to invade South America around 2 to 4 million years ago (mya) as part of the great American Interchange. This followed after the formation of Isthmus of Panama.
Some reports indicate that 10,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene extinction, the North American cougar population was eradicated. The disappearance of other large mammals like the Smilodon, paved way for the American cougar to repopulate the North America.
The head of a cougar is round and its ears are erect. Its powerful neck, forequarters, and jaw serve to hold or grasp large prey. It has four retractable claws on its hind paws and five on its forepaws.
The larger front feet and claws are the result of adaptation to clutching prey. Cougars are agile and slender members of the family Felidae.
It is one of the four largest cat species worldwide. Adults stand about 24 – 35 in (60 to 90 cm) tall at the shoulders. Adult males are around 7.9 ft (2.4 m) long from nose to tail tip, and female’s average is 6.7 ft (2.05 m), with overall ranges between 4.9 – 9.0 ft (1.50 – 2.75 m) nose to tail assumed for the species in general. Of this length, the tail is accounted for 25 – 37 in (63 – 95 cm).
Males generally weigh 117 – 220 lb (53 – 100kg), averaging 121 lb (55 kg). Cougar population size is larger towards the poles and smaller close to the equator.
The largest cougar ever recorded was shot in 1901 weighing 232 lb (105.2 kg) and there have been claims of some weighing 276 lb (125.2 kg) & 260 lb (118 kg).Though, most of the claims were believed to be exaggerated.
The average male cougar in British Columbia weighs 125 lb (56.7 kg) and an adult female weighs 100 lb (45.4 kg). Most male cougars in British Columbia weighed between 190 – 211 lb (86.4 – 95.5 kg).
Depending on the area, cougars tend to be bigger or smaller than jaguars, but not as muscular and powerfully built. Whereas cougars get larger as the distance from the equator increases, this crosses the northern part of South America.
Jaguars are generally smaller in the northern part of the Amazon River in South America and larger in the southern part of the river. The cougar is relatively larger than all felids except the tiger, lion, and jaguar.
Despite its size, it is not considered as a “big cat” because it cannot roar. This is due to the lack of hyoid and larynx apparatus of Panthera.
Unlike “big cats”, cougars are mostly silent with minimal communication through vocalizations apart from the mother-offspring relationship. Cougars sometimes voice low-pitched growls, hisses, and purrs, as well as whistles and chirps.
They sometimes communicate with their scream, which can be referenced to some of their common names. Although, these scream are misinterpreted to be the calls of humans or other animals.
Cougar colouring is plain (hence the Latin name concolor) but it varies on the individual and even siblings. The fur is tawny like that of a lion, which is why it was initially regarded as the “mountain lion.” Sometimes it varies from silvery-grey to reddish with lighter patches on the underbody, including the chin, jaws, and throat.
Infants are born spotted with blue eyes and ring on their tails, while juvenile have pale and dark spots remain on their flanks. An all-black colouring (melanism) has never been recorded, despite anaecdotes to the contrary. The name “black panther” is given to any melanistic individual of any species, most especially leopards and jaguars.
There has been some report indicating that leucistic individuals exist, according to a camera trap recorded in Serra dos Órgãos National Park in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
The cougar is known to have large paws and are proportionally the largest hind legs in Felidae, allowing the cougar to have one of the highest leaps and short-sprint ability.
It has the ability to leap from the ground up to 5.5 m high into a tree, which it uses to ambush prey.
The cougar has the largest habitat of any wild land animal in the Americas. Its habitat spans 110 degrees of latitude, from the southern Andes to northern Yukon. Its wide distribution was due to its adaptability to every habitat type.
It lives in all types of forest, as well as mountainous deserts and lowlands but can also be found in open areas with little vegetation. Cougars in the Santa Ana Mountains prefers as escarpments, steep canyons, dense brush, and rim rocks.
Diet and hunting
The cougar is a generalist predator that eats any animal it catches, from large ungulates (over 1,100 lb (500 kg)). Like other cats, it is a well known carnivore, which means it needs meat to survive. The mean weight of vertebrate prey (MWVP) that pumas attack varies with the puma’s body weight.
In general, regions closer o the equator has lower MWVP. Its main prey species are various deer species, especially in North America which include white-tailed deer, mule deer, Bull Moose, and elk. It preys on other species like Dall’s sheep, bighorn, fallow deer, horses, mountain goat, caribou, American badger, coyote, and pronghorn.
According to a survey of a North America research, 68% of cougar prey was ungulates, especially deer. The only cougar that prefers feral hogs and armadillos is the Florida panther.
Females of one and a half to three years of age are known to have reached sexual maturity. They birth an average of one litter every 2 – 3 years throughout their reproductive lives.
In addition, the period can be as short as one year, where females are in oestrus for about eight days of a 23-day cycle and the gestation period lasting for about 91 days.
There are some cases that indicated that the females sometimes are monogamous but this is not confirmed. The most common is the art of polygyny expressed by the females. The copulation between both sexes is usually frequent but brief.
A female does the parenting alone. The litter size is between 1 – 6 cubs, but mostly two. Litter den are mostly in alcoves and other caves that provide protection. The cubs are dependent on their mother because there are born blind. The mother begins to wean them at three months of age.
As they get older, they begin to leave the den and follow their mother out; first to kill sites and after six month, they start hunting small prey. The survival rates of kittens are almost one per litter. Newly born cougars have spots that eventually fade and disappear by the age of two and a half years. The mother cares for the juvenile for two years.
Young adult leave their mother’s territory to go create their own at around 2 years or earlier (males tends to leave earlier). Some reports indicate the males move farther away from the mother’s territory than females.
The lifespan of cougar in the wild is 8 – 13 years, but the average is between 8 – 10 years. A case reported a female cougar of at least 18 years killed by hunters on Vancouver Island.
In captivity, some may live up to 20 years. Most causes of death in the wild is due to disease, disability, starvation, accidents, competition with other cougars, and also human hunting.