The puma (Puma concolor), also known as the cougar or mountain lion, is a large, solitary cat found in the Americas. It has a vast range, from Yukon Territory in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. Their primary food is deer. They hunt prey in a range of sizes, from insects, mice, rabbits, to the domestic cats, domestic dogs, alpaca and even bighorn sheep and elk. They are secretive cats that usually avoid people, very rarely attacking humans. Due to over hunting and continual human development of puma habitat, populations have dropped in many parts of their historical range. Recent conservation efforts have allowed numbers to improve in some areas.
Pumas are known by many regional names, including panther, catamount, painter, American lion, Mexican lion, Florida panther, silver lion, red lion, red panther, red tiger, brown tiger, deer tiger, ghost cat, mountain screamer, Indian devil, sneak cat, king cat, and painted cat. In the English language the puma has over 40 different names.
There is a considerable variation in color and size of these animals across their large range of habitats. Adult weights can range from 180 to 200 pounds.
Pumas are tawny colored with lighter patches on the under body including the jaws, chin, and throat. There is some color variation from region to region. The puma can run as quickly as 43.5 mph (70km/h), jump 20 ft (6 m) from a standing position, and vertically leap 8ft (2.5 m). They have been seen to jump horizontally 40 ft (12 m) and vertically nearly 16 ft (5 m). One puma was observed jumping 12 ft (3.6m) up into a tree while still holding a deer in its jaws. Their bite strength is more powerful than that of any domestic dog. Puma claws are retractable and they have four toes. North American pumas are slightly larger than leopards and similar in size to jaguars. Adult males in North America may be more than 8 ft (2.4 m) long (nose to tail), and have an average mass of about 150 lb 60 to 70 kg. Some in extremely rare cases may reach over 260 lb (120 kg). Females are much smaller and an adult can be less than 7ft (2 m) long and have a mass of about 75 lb (35 kg). Puma kittens have brownish-blackish spots and rings on their tails. Their life span is about a decade in the wild and 25 years or more in captivity. Pumas that live closest to the equator are the smallest, and increase in size in populations closer to the poles.
Though frequently lumped in with larger cats, the puma is distinct in that it cannot roar. It makes vocalizations much more common to small cats.
Population and distribution
Pumas have the largest range of any wild cat. Before the modern human population explosion in the Americas, the puma ranged across most of the Americas. Even now, it has the widest range of any New World land animal. They can be found the northern Yukon Territory (in Canada) to the southern Andes (on both the Chilean and Argentinean sides). They have also been sighted recently in Northern Connecticut and other parts of New England. These sightings are not generally regarded as reliable enough to serve as scientific evidence. One of the few locations where the puma is in great danger is within the United States. This includes Florida and other parts of the East Coast. This is mostly due to human infringement.
Puma populations of the United States and Canada
Hunted almost to extinction in the United States and eastern Canada, the puma has made a determined comeback. It has an estimated 30,000 individuals in the western United States.
Pumas can kill and drag prey about 7 times their own weight. They normally hunt large mammals, such as deer and elk. They will eat small animals, such as beavers, porcupines or even mice. Their diet consists of 50 different species. They hunt alone and ambush their prey, often from behind. They usually kill with a bite at the base of the skull to break the neck of their target. The carcass of the kill is usually then buried or partially covered to protect it for several days. The puma continues to roam and comes back for nourishment as needed. Pumas do not enjoy being scavengers, and will generally hunt for their own food and not eat from a carcass. Pumas will catch and kill their prey 82% of the time, and are consequently finicky eaters. Like other cats, they will also move to certain areas for feeding.
Pumas, like all other cats, are territorial. They are more territorial than most cats, especially pumas from desert and very snowy regions. They will mostly avoid fighting and usually ward off others with urine markings. They do sometimes compete aggressively for territory, especially among the males. Adult black bears may be able to kill pumas and steal their kills but generally conflict between the two predators does not occur. They are mostly shy and reclusive, and tend to avoid humans.
A male may breed with several females. Female pumas usually have 3 or 4 kittens in a den in a rocky location. If a male puma invades the territory of another male, he may kill the kittens of resident females so that they will become receptive to mating.