PUMA:   

LION OF THE UNITED STATES

 


(C) A. Lopez  12/08

HABITAT / DISTRIBUTION :

        Pumas live in a variety of different settings. They thrive in swamp, grasslands, tropical, or coniferous forest.  They prefer habitats that provide good food supply for their prey and enough cover for it to efficiently stalk that prey.  Its current range includes British Columbia and Alberta in Canada,   the twelve westernmost states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming),  and in Florida. Those animals that are found on the tip of Florida are extremely rare and are classified as an endangered species (only 30 to 50 may exist). In contrast, there are about 5,000 pumas living in California. Pumas are found at elevations that range from sea level up to 14,800 feet. Their home ranges from 8 square miles to more then 400 square miles for females and 25 to 500 square miles for males. This range varies with the time of year, the availability of prey, and presence of vegetation that feeds prey and provides stalking cover.  Male and female seem to follow different rules in their home range organization.  Male ranges don't  often overlap, but the range of one male often overlaps those of several females.  Female home ranges sometimes overlaps each other, and the boundaries between them appear to change with the number and size of young for which each female is providing for.  Mountain lions who have a home range quite often hold onto it until it dies.  This vacant range is very quickly claimed by a transient mountain lion seeking to establish its own home range or used by neighboring residents.  When ownership of a range is being established, that is when fights can become fatal.  Home ranges are not territories since they have no real defined borders that are defended  against other members of the species.  Instead, boundaries between adjacent ranges are somewhat flexible and neighboring mountain lions trespassing is common and usually tolerated if direct encounters are avoided.  Males are less tolerant and will kill other males that do trespass (even their own sub-adult sons).  As it travels through its home range, mountain lions makes its presence known by leaving feces and urine.  It tells transients that this area is occupied and how recently the owner passed by.  This minimizes direct contact with one another.  Males also leave scrapes, piles of dirt and debris that they pull together with their paws, throughout their home range as signs of occupation.  They will sometimes mark a scrape with urine or feces.  Females appear to make scrapes less often than males.

(C) A. Lopez  1993

They have had a major impact on the Native American folklore. The Great Lakes tribes believed that their tails whipped up the waves and storms on the lakes. The Cochiti Indians of New Mexico carved life-sized stone statues of them and built shrines in their honor.  The Hopis considered it a guardian of their tribe.  To the Native people of California, they were a provider of essential food because they followed the vultures to their kills.  To all of these, the mountain lion was an object deserving high respect.  Although true, some had mixed feelings about them.  The Pueblo saw them as the greatest of hunters, but it was their enemy.  A man who killed one was admitted to the warrior society just as if he had killed a human foe.

They were classified as vermin by many in the early 1900's and this thought has been carried through by many up until recent times. Many were killed during these times and their true impact on the environment in which they lived in was seen.  Their prey like mountain sheep, elk, and deer grew to numbers that caused thousands to starve to death in the winter because there was not enough vegetation to support them.  Only recent field studies have helped shed some positive light onto this very beautiful and elusive cat.  Unfortunately,  there have been reports on pumas attacking humans.  In areas with large populations of both humans and these big cats, these cases have increased.

  

APPEARANCE /  SIZE / VOCAL COMMUNICATION :


Florida Mountain Lion  "Jet" -  (C) A. Lopez

        Pumas are about the size of a leopard, but weights and measurements vary greatly.  This cat is a long, sleek, muscular animal.  It appears thin and flat-sided and its chest is narrow.  It may stand 2 feet or more at the shoulder.  Its tail makes up a third of the cat's total length.  Males weigh from 148-227 pounds while females weigh 79.5 -132.5. They range in length from 5 1/2  to 8 1/2 feet. The puma's coat can be red-brown, blue-gray, or any color in between. Reddish cats are more common in tropical regions and black has been reported several times in Central America.  These may have been a mistaken identity at least a few times.  Recently, there has been reports of 10 black Bobcats coming from one section of South Florida.  I have seen one picture of a black mountain lion, but it was in black and white and very hard to tell what the true color for  that cat was.    Albino cougars have been reported as well.  I have seen one picture of a white puma in an old book that was in a zoo many years ago.   Kittens have distinct spotted coats but lose these markings as they mature.

Cougars cannot roar, but they have been known to purr, chirp, peep, and even whistle.  Adults sometimes produce low, hunting whistles before a chase. Females have bloodcurdling mating calls which gave them their names "mountain screamer" or "mountain devil."  Kittens make a series of short, high pitched peeps when frightened.    

        They have short, blunt snouts concealing powerful jaws.  Their jaws are heavily boned to absorb the shock of their struggling prey.  Their teeth are adapted for tearing and biting. Pumas seem to have shoulders that have piles of muscle. This can launch these animals into incredible leaps that have been recorded up to 20 feet into trees and leap horizontally 45 feet.

        

DIET /  HUNTING STYLE :


(C) A. Lopez

Prey includes deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, beaver, porcupine, hare, rodents,  raccoon, opossum, domestic livestock, and wild hog.  Deer is the main part of the puma's diet though.  These mighty athletic cats even can kill adult male elk. This is no easy feat because they easily weigh seven times more then a female cougar. The puma actively stalks its prey and remains under cover and undetected until within striking distance. It uses its tremendous bounding capabilities to leap on its target and knock it to the ground by the force of its attack. Death is caused by a swift, killing bite by grasping the back of the neck with its canines and pulling the head back with its powerful forelegs. By doing this the neck will snap. The mountain lion may also bite into the back of the neck and sever  the spinal cord.  Death by asphyxiation (transferring bite to the front of the neck) sometimes occurs in the killing of very large prey or by inexperienced mountain lions.  The kill is then often dragged to a secluded spot and it may be covered with vegetation, dirt, or snow after the puma has had its fill. This will allow it to feed off a kill for several days and to hide it from other predators such as black bears. They seem to hunt much more during the daylight then in the darkness.

 

SOCIAL SYSTEM / REPRODUCTION :


(C) Gerald & Buff Corsi

        Pumas,  like most cats,  are solitary animals.   The mothers rear their young on their own like most big cats.  Two to three cubs are born after a 90-95 day gestation period. They are only ten inches long and weigh less then a pound each.  They are born blind and very helpless.  With their spotted coats and ringed tails, they bear little resemblance to their mothers.  In the first 2 weeks of life, they double in their weight and they open their eyes.  They then make their first wobbly explorations of the den area.  During this time, mothers may move their babies several times to different dens.  They nurse from their mother for three or more months. They begin to eat meat as early as six weeks of age.  Mothers are very tender with their young and often licks and grooms them after meals or when she returns from her hunt.  Pumas can purr and a mother will purr very loudly during these grooming sessions.  She is also very patient with them for they do a lot of playful assaults on her head and tail.  They also stalk invisible birds and attack each other.  These games serve a very important purpose in developing skills that the cubs will eventually need to survive on their own.  When they are four and a half months old, the cubs begin to lose their baby spots and their eyes start to change from blue to pale golden-green.  Their baby teeth are soon replaced by permanent ones.  At 10 months, the cubs sometimes hunt independently at this stage.  They will prey on rabbits or ground squirrels.   Although this may be the case, they still rely on their mothers to provide bigger game.  Young pumas become independent when they are about two years old.  Litter mates may stay together for a few months after they leave their mother.

 

OTHER NAMES THE PUMA IS KNOWN BY :

   Pumas are known by many different names.  A few are: cougar,  catamount, deer tiger, painter, panther, American lion, Mexican lion, red jaguar, silver lion, mountain screamer,  king cat,  even sneak cat, plain lion, Leon Americano, gray lion, tyger / tigre, cougouar, mountain tiger,  onca vermelha, onca parda, leon bayo, leopardo, tigre rouge, cuguacuarana, carcajou, quinquajou, catawampas, long tail, pampas cat, swamp devil,  and swamp lion.  The Indians had their own names for them as well.  The first sighting of a North American mountain lion by a European was in 1513 by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca who spied one in the Florida Everglades.

REFERENCES I HAVE USED AND ALL RIGHTS RESERVED AND ACKNOWLEDGED. TEXT IS COPYRIGHT MATERIAL. THIS IS A NONPROFIT EDUCATIONAL SITE ONLY :

Brakefield, Tom. 1993. Kingdom of Might. Voyageur Press Inc, MN.  Pgs 128, 129, and 131.

Lumpkin, Susan and Seidensticker, John. 1991. Great Cats Majestic Creatures of the Wild. Rodale Press, Pa.  Pg. 30.

Sleeper, Barbara. 1995. Wild Cats of the World. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York. Pgs 101, 102, 105, and 106.

Busch, Robert. 1996.  The Cougar Almanac. Lyons and Burford, Publishers. Pgs 21, 23, 30, and 31.

Grambo, Rebecca. 1999. Mountain Lion. Chronicle Books, San Francisco.  Pgs 15, 18, 19, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30.

    
(C)  Both   A.  Lopez   2 / 06      

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