The Lion of the Mountains


 

          

  Kingdom:  Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
  Class:  Mammalia
  Order:  Carnivora
  Family: Felidae
  Subfamily: Felinae
  Genus: Puma
  Species: Felis concolor
  Puma concolor

          

          

                              

 

 

Although a male cougar can weigh up to 200 lbs, this animal is considered one of the smaller great cats of the world and is known across it by many different names. Cougars are often times referred to as pumas, mountain lions, Mexican lions, red tiger, deercat, mountain devil, king cat, silver lion, mountain screamer, catamount or panthers (Florida) and their habitats used to be widespread all over North and South America from southern Argentina, through the US, all the way up to northern British Columbia. Nowadays, because of  hunting and the disappearance of habitats due to human progress, they are forced back into more mountainous and less populated areas.

The cougar’s natural habitat includes but is not limited to: Tundra, taiga, temperate forest & rainforest, grasslands, desert, tropical savanna and of course mountains. They are carnivores that are active both day and night and their prey consists of a variety of mammals, birds and fish. If larger animals such as white-tail deer, caribou and moose are not available, the cougar is able to adapt quickly and switch to smaller prey such as raccoon, skunk, birds and fish. The ability to adapt to different circumstances has saved Felis concolor from becoming extinct.

 Cougars can range in weight from about 150 lbs. to 200 lbs and their coat ranges from a brownish-yellow to grayish-brown color with a lighter shade of color on their belly. Felis concolor means “cat of one color”, however their color varies depending on their habitat.  In the colder areas, their coat will be more gray in color, in the warmer regions their coat leans more to a reddish brown. Unlike popular belief, there exists no such thing as a black panther. Melanistic cougars do not exist, they are a legend and when people refer to black panthers, they actually mean black leopards or black jaguars that do exist in nature.

Pumas have a pink nose and the back of their ears and tip of their tail is black. Their tail can be almost as long as their body length and is used for balance. Their back legs are more developed than their front legs which allows them to ambush their prey and  jump on their backs to go in for the kill. The strong muscle development in the back also enables the cougar to maneuver in the more difficult mountainous areas and steep ravines.

 A solitary animal, the male cougar does team up with different females during mating season which is usually from December through March. Females can reproduce up to the age of 12 years, where males can be reproductive up to the age of 20 years. The female can give birth to 1 - 6 cubs at a time and the cubs have blue eyes with a spotted coat, which gives them a better camouflage for their protection while they’re young. The spots and blue eye color disappear after approximately 6 months. The only time you will see a cougar that is not alone, is when mom has cubs that she keeps with her for up to 12 months until they go out on their own. The average life span of a cougar in the wild is 10-15 years, in captivity cases have been reported up to 25 years of age.

 

Florida Panther: Puma concolor coryi

 The Florida panther is a subspecies of the puma and is only found in the state it was named after and very rare at that. Many will claim to posses a Florida Panther but the species is very rare and highly endangered due to habitat destruction and inbreeding. The truth is the Florida Panther is on the brink of extinction and we all know it is forever.

The Florida Panther was first placed on the endangered species list in 1967. Conservation efforts have only recently become significant to ensure that the animal will not become extinct. For example, similar to the initiatives taken for the preservation of African Cheetah's in the wild, a program is in effect to combat the problems associated with inbreeding due to low population. To increase genetic variation in the current population of Florida Panthers they are being introduced to Texas Cougars in the wild, which is another subspecies believed to be closest related to Felis concolor coryi. It must be said however, that the biggest threat to the Florida Panther still remains man, whether indirectly or directly affecting the animal population in the state. When we build housing development s and roads, the increasing amount of animals hit by cars (commonly referred to as road kill) lures the panthers out into harms way as they try to haul off their prey as inevitably their habitat decreases more and more.

 What distinguishes the Florida Panther from the other cougars?

  First of all, the Florida Panther is the smallest of the cougars. Their body length can be anywhere between 6 or 7 ft. and they weigh anywhere from 90 to 150 lbs. The females are usually smaller in size than the males. This animal has much shorter and coarser hair with a deeper brown color than the regular Puma concolor. Along the back of the animal,  the coat is normally more reddish and they have a spot in the middle of the back that is characterized by a thick concentration of darker hair that is a clear pattern break from the rest of the coat. In addition to that, the cat has irregular white spots on it's head, neck, and shoulders and the tail has a right angle hook at the end of it. In order for a cougar to be considered a Florida Panther, all of the above characteristics need to be present together as some or all of them are not found in the regular species.

 So when you go out there on your wildlife tours, and someone claims to have a Florida Panther, look for the above characteristics and ask about it. Now you know!

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*Thanks to Brigitte Ivory for the information contained on this page

copyright © 2001 Wildlife Survival Sanctuary Inc