- Plural of cougar
The cougar (Puma concolor), also puma, mountain lion, or panther, 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,
"Cougar" is borrowed from the Portuguese çuçuarana, via French; the term was originally derived from the Tupi language. A current form in Brazil is suçuarana. "Puma" comes, via Spanish, from the Quechua language of Peru.
Taxonomy and evolutionThe cougar is the largest of the small cats. It is placed in the subfamily Felinae, although its bulk characteristics are similar to those of the big cats in the subfamily Pantherinae. as cats are poorly represented in the fossil record, North American felids then invaded South America 3 Ma ago as part of the Great American Interchange, following formation of the Isthmus of Panama. The cougar was originally thought to belong in Felis, the genus which includes the domestic cat, but it is now placed in Puma along with the jaguarundi, a cat just a little more than a tenth its weight.
Studies have indicated that the cougar and jaguarundi are most closely related to the modern cheetah of Africa and western Asia, but the relationship is unresolved. It has been suggested that the cheetah lineage diverged from the Puma lineage in the Americas (see American cheetah) and migrated back to Asia and Africa, The outline of small feline migration to the Americas is thus unclear.
Recent studies have demonstrated a high level of genetic similarity among the North American cougar populations, suggesting that they are all fairly recent descendants of a small ancestral group. Culver et al. suggest that the original North American population of Puma concolor was extirpated during the Pleistocene extinctions some 10,000 years ago, when other large mammals such as Smilodon also disappeared. North America was then repopulated by a group of South American cougars. ; Costa Rican Cougar ; North American Cougar : includes the previous subspecies and synonyms arundivaga, aztecus, browni, californica, coryi, floridana, hippolestes, improcera, kaibabensis, mayensis, missoulensis, olympus, oregonensis, schorgeri, stanleyana, vancouverensis and youngi;; Southern South American puma : includes the previous subspecies and synonyms araucanus, concolor (Gay, 1847), patagonica, pearsoni and puma (Trouessart, 1904)
The status of the Florida panther, here collapsed into the North American cougar, remains uncertain. It is still regularly listed as subspecies Puma concolor coryi in research works, including those directly concerned with its conservation. Culver et al. themselves noted microsatellite variation in the Florida panther, possibly due to inbreeding;
Biology and behavior
Cougars are slender and agile cats. Adults stand about 60 to 80 cm (2.0 to 2.7 ft) tall at the shoulders. The length of adult males is around 2.4 m (8 ft) long nose to tail, with overall ranges between 1.5 and 2.75 meters (5 and 9 ft) nose to tail suggested for the species in general. Males have an average weight of about 53 to 72 kilograms (115 to 160 pounds). In rare cases, some may reach over 120 kg (260 lb). Female average weight is between 34 and 48 kg (75 and 105 lb). 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, and jaw serve to grasp and hold large prey. It has five retractable claws on its forepaws (one a dewclaw) and four on its hind paws. The larger front feet and claws are adaptations to clutching prey.
Cougars can be 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 coloring 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; The term "black panther" is used colloquially to refer to melanistic individuals of other species, particularly jaguars and leopards.
Cougars have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. Horizontal jumping capability is suggested anywhere from 6 to 12 m (20 to 40 ft). The cougar can run as fast as 55 km/h (35 mph), but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, which allows it to evade canine competitors. Although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.
Hunting and diet
A successful generalist predator, the cougar will eat any animal it can catch, from insects to large ungulates. Like all cats, it is an obligate carnivore, feeding only on meat. Its most important prey species are various deer species, particularly in North America; mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and even the large moose are taken by the cat. Other species such as Bighorn Sheep, horses, and domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep are also primary food bases in many areas. A survey of North America research found 68% of prey items were ungulates, especially deer. Only the Florida Panther showed variation, often preferring feral hogs and armadillos. Another study on winter kills (November–April) in Alberta showed that ungulates accounted for greater than 99% of the cougar diet. Learned, individual prey recognition was observed, as some cougars rarely killed bighorn sheep, while others relied heavily on the species.
In the Central and South American cougar range, the ratio of deer in the diet declines. Small to mid-size mammals are preferred, including large rodents such as the capybara. Ungulates accounted for only 35% of prey items in one survey, approximately half that of North America. Competition with the larger jaguar has been suggested for the decline in the size of prey items.
Reproduction and lifecycleFemales reach sexual maturity between one-and-a-half and three years of age. They typically average one litter every two to three years throughout their reproductive life; the period can be as short as one year. Copulation is brief but frequent.
Only females are involved in parenting. Female cougars are fiercely protective of their kittens, and have been seen to successfully fight off animals as large as grizzly bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six kittens, typically two or three. Caves and other alcoves that offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind, kittens are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months beginning to hunt small prey on their own.
Life expectancy in the wild is reported at between 8 to 13 years, and probably averages 8 to 10; a female of at least 18 years was reported killed by hunters on Vancouver Island.
Social structure and home rangeLike almost all cats, the cougar is a solitary animal. Only mothers and kittens live in groups, with adults meeting only to mate. It is secretive and crepuscular, being most active around dawn and dusk.
Estimates of territory sizes vary greatly. Canadian Geographic reports large male territories of 150 to 1000 square kilometers (58 to 386 sq mi) with female ranges half the size. Male ranges may include or overlap with those of females but, at least where studied, not with those of other males, which serves to reduce conflict between cougars. Ranges of females may overlap slightly with each other. Scrape marks, urine, and feces are used to mark territory and attract mates. Males may scrape together a small pile of leaves and grasses and then urinate on it as a way of marking territory.
Distribution and habitatThe cougar has the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas. Its range spans 110 degrees of latitude, from northern Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes. It is one of only three cat species, along with the bobcat and Canadian lynx, native to Canada. DNA evidence has suggested its presence in eastern North America, while a consolidated map of cougar sightings shows numerous reports, from the mid-western Great Plains through to Eastern Canada. The only unequivocally known eastern population is the Florida panther, which is critically endangered.
South of the Rio Grande, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) lists the cat in every Central and South American country except Costa Rica and Panama.
The cougar's total breeding population is estimated at less than 50,000 by the IUCN, with a declining trend. California has actively sought to protect the cat and a similar number of cougars has been suggested, between 4,000 and 6,000.
Ecological roleAside from humans, no species preys upon mature cougars in the wild. The cat is not, however, the apex predator throughout much of its range. In its northern range, the cougar interacts with other powerful predators such as the brown bear and gray wolf. In the south, the cougar must compete with the larger jaguar. In Florida it encounters the American alligator.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) currently lists the cougar as a "near threatened" species. It has shifted the cougar's status from "least concern," while leaving open the possibility that it may be raised to "vulnerable" when greater data on the cat's distribution becomes available. rendering illegal international trade in specimens or parts.
East of the Mississippi, the only unequivocally known cougar population is the Florida panther. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes both an Eastern cougar and the Florida panther, affording protection under the Endangered Species Act. Certain taxonomic authorities have collapsed both designations into the North American Cougar, with Eastern or Florida subspecies not recognized,
The cougar is also protected across much of the rest of its range. As of 1996, cougar hunting was prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Uruguay. (Costa Rica and Panama are not listed as current range countries by the IUCN.) The cat had no reported legal protection in Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guyana.
Attacks on humans
Due to the growth of urban areas, cougar ranges increasingly overlap with areas inhabited by humans. Attacks on humans are rare, as cougar prey recognition is a learned behavior and they do not generally recognize humans as prey. Attacks on people, livestock, and pets may occur when the cat habituates to humans. There have been 108 confirmed attacks on humans with twenty fatalities in North America since 1890, fifty of the incidents having occurred since 1991. The heavily populated state of California has seen a dozen attacks since 1986 (after just three from 1890 to 1985), including three fatalities.
When the cougar does attack, it usually employs its characteristic neck bite, attempting to position its teeth between the vertebrae and into the spinal cord. Neck, head, and spinal injuries are common and sometimes fatal. The sky and thunder god of the Inca, Viracocha, has been associated with the animal.
In North America, mythological descriptions of the cougar have appeared in the stories of the Hotcâk language ("Ho-Chunk" or "Winnebago") of Wisconsin and Illinois and the Cheyenne, amongst others. To the Apache and Walapai of Arizona, the wail of the Cougar was harbinger of death.
The cougar continues to be a symbol of strength and stealth. From combat helicopters, motor vehicles (see Ford/Mercury Cougar and Ford Puma) to athletic shoes, both "Cougar" and "Puma" are widely used as brand names. Various sports teams have also adopted the names, including the Argentina national rugby union team as well as US universities, Brigham Young University and Washington State University. Many places, such as Cougar Mountain, are also named after their association with cougars.
- The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature
- Forest Cats of North America
- Desert Puma: Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation of an Enduring Carnivore
- Description of a Cougar attack
- Cougar Facts and Photos - NatureMapping Program
- No Place for Predators? Liza Gross, PLoS Biology, explains how Washington State wildlife officials implemented a hunting policy, in response to a state measure passed to protect wildlife, that led to the highest rates of human-caused cougar mortality since the height of the bounty era
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