Large cats like the cougar (Puma concolor) are indigenous to the Americas. Of all the large terrestrial mammals found in the Western Hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed.
Owing to its extensive habitat, the cougar goes by several names, such as puma, panther, mountain lion, and catamount. After the jaguar (Panthera onca), the cougar is the second-largest cat in the New World. Notwithstanding its size, the cougar shares a closer phylogenetic relationship with lesser felines than with any other species in the subfamily Pantherinae, including the domestic cat (Felis catus). The South American and North American courgars are the two recognized subspecies that still exist.
The cougar has a short, rough coat and is big and thin. With the exception of the belly, which is whiter, its hue ranges from yellowish to grayish brown. White in the throat and chest. Their lips are bordered with black and have a pinkish nose. Its nose has black stripes, and the tips of its ears and the regions behind them are also black. Adults’ eyes range in color from golden to grayish-brown. Approximately one-third of their overall length is made up of their long, cylindrical tail. They have large feet with five digits on the front and five on the rear, and they have short, powerful arms.
The cougar has the widest range of any big wild terrestrial animal in the Western Hemisphere, spanning from the southern point of Chile to the US, Central, and South America, including the Canadian Yukon. Within 200 years of European colonization, cougars were exterminated from eastern and central North America with the exception of a small residual subpopulation in south Florida. Cougars inhabit a wide range of habitats, such as grasslands, marshes, lowland tropical forests, dry scrub terrain, and montage coniferous forests, as well as any other places that provide sufficient cover and prey. They seek refuge in caverns, rocky clefts, and thick vegetation.
Habits and Lifestyle
As solitary creatures, cougars avoid human interaction outside of breeding season. After leaving their mother, males will stick together right away, but as adults, they rarely do. They live mostly at night. Although they can run fast, cougars are more of an ambush predator. They follow their prey through undergrowth and trees, over ledges, and other covered areas, then give a forceful leap onto their back and suffocate them with a neck bite. Some of its smaller prey can have their necks broken by cougars with a powerful bite that sends the animal flying to the ground. Over several days, the cat drags a kill to an area of its choosing, brushes it off, and comes back to feast. Cougars use their senses of smell and sight to communicate. messages, and the males frequently leave dirt or snow scrapes behind them. Their sounds include growls, hisses, and whistles that resemble birds.
Diet and Nutrition
As hyper carnivores, cougars mostly prey on large mammals, particularly deer, but they will occasionally consume grasshoppers along with coyotes, beavers, porcupines, mice, marmots, raccoons, and birds. They will feed on domesticated animals like pigs, lambs, calves, and chickens.
During the mating season, cougars use a polygynous mating system in which a single male mates with many females. While mating can take place at any time of year, it primarily happens in northern latitudes from December to March. Females typically give birth to one to six kittens every other year after a ninety-six-day gestation period. Usually found in a sheltered area like a cave, a pile of boulders, a crack, a thicket, or a rock shelter, they give birth in dens covered with moss or vegetation. The kittens remain with their moms for a year or two. After forty days, kids are completely weaned. Males reach reproductive maturity at age three, whereas females reach reproductive maturity at age 2.5. They hold off on procreating till after they have created a permanent residence.
Farmers defending their livestock and sport hunters both kill cougars. Threats include habitat loss, automobile accidents, and poaching from their wild prey base in addition to capture for zoos.
Less than 50,000 cougars are thought to be breeding throughout the world, according to IUCN estimates. Canada’s population was estimated to be between 3,500 and 5,000 people in 1996. According to state-level statistics in the US, cougar numbers appear to have recovered. In 2006, Oregon recorded a healthy population of 5,000, above the 3,000 objective. Although there are only 4,000–6,000 in California, the state is actively working to safeguard the species. There were just 160 Florida subspecies cougars remaining in the wild as of 2013. There are probably far more people in Central and South America than there are in North America, however even approximations are not available. The IUCN Red List now lists cougars as Least Concern (LC) overall, however the species is becoming less common.
Because they are the top predators in their ecosystems, cougars are important. They help maintain big ungulate populations under control.
Fun Facts for Kids
- Cougars often only eat one or two times each week.
- They can create noises similar to a human scream, but they cannot roar like a lion can.
- Cusco, an Incan city in Peru, was planned to resemble a puma in shape.
- Cougars will hide their kill behind bushes or under leaves and return to it later if they are unable to finish eating it all at once.
- The second-largest cat in North America is the cougar.
- The “M” shaped pad on cougars’ feet features three lobes on the heel.