The cougar (Puma concolor), also puma, mountain lion, or panther, depending on region, is a mammal of the Felidae family, native to the Americas.
This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from the Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in every major American habitat type. It is the second heaviest cat in the American continents after the jaguar, and the fourth heaviest in the world, along with the leopard, after the tiger, lion, and jaguar, although it is most closely related to smaller felines.
Cougars are slender and agile cats. Adults stand about 60 to 80cm tall at the shoulders. The length of adult males is around 2,4m long nose to tail, with overall ranges between 1,5 and 2,75 meters nose to tail suggested for the species in general. Males have an average weight of about 53 to 72 kilograms. In rare cases, some may reach over 118kg. Female average weight is between 34 and 48kg. Cougar size is smallest close to the equator, and larger towards the poles.
The head of the cat is round and the ears erect. Its powerful forequarters, neck, jaw and carnassials serve to grasp and hold large prey. It has five retractable claws on its forepaws and four on its hind paws. The larger front feet and claws are adaptations to clutching prey.
Cougars can be almost as large as jaguars, but are less muscled and powerful. Where their ranges overlap, the cougar tends to be smaller than average. The cougar is on average heavier than the leopard. Despite its size, it is not typically classified among the “big cats”, as it cannot roar, lacking the specialized larynx and hyoid apparatus of Panthera. Like domestic cats, cougars vocalize low-pitched hisses, growls, and purrs, as well as chirps and whistles. They are well known for their screams, referenced in some of its common names, although these may often be the misinterpreted calls of other animals.
Cougar colouring is plain (hence the Latin concolor) but can vary greatly between individuals and even between siblings. The coat is typically tawny, but ranges to silvery-grey or reddish, with lighter patches on the under body including the jaws, chin, and throat. Infants are spotted and born with blue eyes and rings on their tails; juveniles are pale, and dark spots remain on their flanks. Despite anecdotes to the contrary, all-black colouring (melanism) has never been documented in cougars. Females reach sexual maturity between one-and-a-half and three years of age. Only they are involved in parenting. Female cougars are fiercely protective of their kittens, and have been seen to successfully fight off much bigger animals in their defence.
The cougar is typically an ambush predator and a generalist predator. It will hunt and feed on a wide variety of prey. Its most important prey species are ungulates like deer, especially in the septentrional area of its natural habitat. However, it will also hunt on smaller species, such as insects or rodents. Cougars prefer habitats with dense vegetation for hunting, but it will also live in open areas with little vegetation.
The cougar is territorial and it persists at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and prey abundance. Though being a great hunter, the cougar is not always the dominant species of its area of distribution, for example when it shares territory with the grey wolf. Cougars are solitary and avoid contact with humans. Attacks of cougars on humans are very rare, although records have been increasing in the past years.
The cougar was considered a dangerous pest from the European colonization of America onwards. As a consequence of the growing human settlement, the cougar populations have been decreasing in many parts of its historic habitats. The species was extirpated across much of its eastern North American range with the exception of Florida. Today it is estimated, that the cougar could possibly recover part of its former oriental territory. Due to its wide geographic distribution, the cougar has received numerous names. There is several references in the mythology of the indigenous people of the Americas, but also in contemporary culture.
Cougar, Puma concolor
How are they? The cougar is the fourth heaviest feline in the world, just after the tiger, the lion and the jaguar. Cougars are slender and agile cats, which can reach up to 2,4m in length and 60-80cm in height. Their average weight ranges between 53 and 72kg. Their head is round and their ears erect. The coat is typically tawny, with lighter patches.
Where do they live? Cougars can adapt to many different habitats. They can live nearly anywhere, from tropical to dense forests, from savannahs to deserts.
How is the species geographically distributed? From Canada to the southern Andes.
What do they feed on? Their main prey species are ungulates like deers, but they also hunt on smaller species like insects or rodents.