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Cougar

cougar pic
Scientific Name:
Puma concolor

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Distribution: Other than humans, cougars are the most widely distributed land mammals in the Western Hemisphere Historically the cougar ranged throughout the Western hemisphere from northern British Columbia to Patagonia and from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. The distribution of the cougar shrunk drastically after European settlement due to a pioonering antipredator attitude and their discovery that the cougar was fairly easy prey to capture with traps, and especially with hunting dogs.  As a result this large predator remains common only in the west in North America today and in the Florida Everglades. The cougars northern limit is the Yukon border at 60° N, extending south to Patagonia, Argentina. It also lives at many altitudes, from sea level to 4500 m, and in many climatic ranges, from dry deserts to deep, wet lowland tropical rainforests.

Habitat: The cougar has a wide tolerance for many different habitats like other large cats. And considering their wide distribution, they don’t reside in one particular habitat. They do however, make frequent use of caves as dens and show some preference for wooded terrain.

Description: The animal is identified by its large size and slender cat-like appearance.  An adult cougar can range in length between 3-4 ft, males can weigh up to 200 pounds and females up to 120 pounds.  They have a long tail, nearly three feet (1 m) long, which is equal to a third of its total length when fully grown. The limbs are short and muscular. The feet are broad, with four digits on hind feet and five on forefeet.  On each digit cougars have retractile claws that are sharp and curved. Cougars in North America have short fur ranging in color from reddish, greyish, or tawny to dark brown. The muzzle and chest are white and there are black markings on the face, ears and tip of the tail. Kittens are spotted at birth, but lose the spots before the end of their first year.

Diet: The cougar is a carnevorous animal capable of killing prey up to the size of elk, however white-tailed deer, mule deer, marsh deer, peccary, and guanaco are the most common items of their diet.

Behavior: Cougars are solitary cats, meaning that they do not spend their life in packs like wolves do.  Other than the short time breeding pairs are together, the only cats you will see together are mothers with their young.  The young (often two) stay with their mother for a year and a half until they are almost full size.  Females with dependent cubs live within the wide space used by the resident male.  Mountain lions mark their territories by depositing urine or fecal materials by trees marked with scrapes. Population densities vary from as low as one individual per 85 square kilometers to as high as one per 13 to 54 square kilometers, depending on the density of prey and other resources in the area. 

Mountain lions are primarily nocturnal, meaning that they typically hunt at dawn or dusk and find some cover to bed down in during the daytime.  Cougars are masters of camouflage and unlike the canids who rely on speed to overtake their prey, the cougar must place itself very close before it launches an attack.  Cougars are extremely elusive and usually avoid direct contact with people. They often remain hidden when approached closely on foot.  Because of these solitary and secretive habits it is not unusual for people to be unaware of cougar that are passing through. 

Breeding: The cougar can have young and breed any month of the year but predominantly give birth from June to September, peaking in July, and breed in the winter. They usually give birth one to three kittens, and occasionally as many as six however often they all do not reach maturity. The mortality rate of kittens is high during the first year and after separation from the mother. If the kittens are abandoned within six months of being born they will not survive to maturity.  Females reach sexual maturity when they are two to three years old.  Cougars breed regularly every two years unless the litter dies than they will breed within the year.  The gestation period lasts 90 days. The female gives birth in a cave or sheltered spot. Kittens are fully functioning within a few weeks after being born.  The female nurses the young for four to five weeks, and they remain with their mother for at least a year and usually for 18 to 24 months to learn survival skills such as hunting. Cougar kittens will often stay together for a short period after separating from their mother before becoming solitary.
Cougars are polygamous, which means they may have more than one mate. A male with a large home range can breed with many females, and a resident male usually attempts to maintain exclusive breeding rights with females within his territory, thus competition for females is intense and males are often killed in territorial fights. Males roam to breed with as many females as possible, sometimes traveling many miles a day to find receptive females.

Females usually do not allow the male to approach the kittens as he may kill them and they don't recognize them as his own offspring. When a resident male is killed and a new male arrives in the vacant territory, he may kill all the kittens that he finds because they are not his offspring and because once the young are killed, the female will be more likely to mate with him.

Adaptations: Like all members of the cat family, cougars have five digits on the forepaw and four on the hindpaw. Each digit is equipped with a claw, which the cougar sheathes while walking, but which it uses with deadly effectiveness when grasping its prey. The cougar is well adapted for grasping and cutting up large prey, with extremely strong forequarters and neck.

Conservation: Due to the Cougars broad distribution, conservation efforts and methods vary from region to region. Across their distribution area humans have killed cougars as long as they have been in contact with each other because of the animals’ attacks on livestock and occasional attacks on people. These attacks usually occur when a cougar is weakened by disease, parasites, or injury, making free-ranging or unsupervised livestock the easiest or only food source available. In many parts of the cougar’s historical range, humans responded to these attacks by pursuing the cougar in great “ring” hunts. In these hunts people surrounded a large area and drove all the animals in that area into a tight circle. Cougars and other predators would be killed, while other animals would be allowed to escape. Other means of eradicating cougars have ranged from using dogs, traps, and poison. Cougars are also killed through trophy hunting in jurisdictions where cougar hunting with dogs is still permitted since the normally elusive cougars are easily treed by dogs. Hunting has resulted in the drastic decline in many cougar populations across the Americas.

The cougar was once the larges ranging land animal in the western hemisphere. Populations have been killed off in eastern Canada and the eastern United states except for in Florida. Viable populations are found in 12 western states and in 11 of these states they are hunted for sport. There are very few restrictions on killing females who are usually always with young that still rely on their mother for survival or pregnant.

Miscellaneous:


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MORE ON THE EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY OF THE COUGAR

Sources:

Books

Turner, Alan. The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives: an Illustrated Guide to Their Evolution and Natural History. New York: Columbia UP, 1997.

Busch, Robert H. The Cougar Almanac: A Complete Natural History of the Mountain Lion. Conneticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1996.

Journals

 J. Agustin Iriarte, William L. Franklin, Warren E. Johnson, and Kent H. Redford, 1980. "Biogeographic variation of food habits and body size of the America puma". Oecologia 85 (2): 185. Retrieved on 2007-04-04.

PUMA: A Population Simulator for Cougar Conservation Author(s): Paul Beier Source: Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 356-357

PUMA: A Population Simulator for Cougar Conservation Author(s): Paul Beier Source: Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 356-357

Notes on Cougar Productivity and Life History W. Leslie Robinette, Jay S. Gashwiler and Owen W. Morris Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 42, No. 2 (May, 1961), pp. 204-217 Published by: American Society of Mammalogists

JSTOR: Evolution, Vol. 39, No. 3, (1985 ), pp. 473-487

JSTOR: Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 42, No. 2, (1961 ), pp. 204-217

Maurice G. Hornocker. "An Analysis of Mountain Lion Predation Upon Mule Deer and Elk in The Idaho Primitive Area" Wildlife Monographs. 21. (September 1970).

Seidensticker IV, John C., and Maurice G. Hornocker. "Mountain Lion Social Organizations in the Idaho Primitive Area." Wildlife Monographs. 35. (September 1973).

Internet

Mountain Lion (Puma concolor), Texas Parks and Wildlife
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/mlion/

San Diego Zoo
http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-puma.html

Sierra club
http://arizona.sierraclub.org/conservation/mt-lion/index.asp

James F. Mahaffy, Biology Department  Dordt College
http://homepages.dordt.edu/~mahaffy/mtlion/mtlionshort_behaviour.html

Washington Nature Mapping Program
http://depts.washington.edu/natmap/facts/cougar_712.html

Dewey, T. and A. Shivaraju. "Puma concolor", Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Puma_concolor.html.

The Tree of Life Web Project, The University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Http://tolweb.org/tree/

Taxonomic Information
http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/WWW/esis/lists/e054001.htm

"Frequently Asked Questions." The Cougar Fund. 2006. http://www.cougarfund.org/index.php>.