puma (Felis concolor) is a feline animal native to the American continent. It is also known as: mountain lion or American lion.

Although it is more related to other smaller feline species, some specimens can reach large sizes, becoming the largest felines.

Unlike other cats, it has no markings on its fur, which is why it receives the scientific name Felis concolor, which means "cat of one color."

Species

The puma has a high distribution throughout the continent, due to this there are 6 subspecies of pumas. All subspecies have similar characteristics, but vary slightly in size and color.

  • Puma argentino (Puma concolor cabrerae)
  • Puma of Costa Rica (P. c. costaricensis)
  • Eastern South American cougar (P. c. anthonyi)
  • American cougar (P. c. couguar)
  • North South American Puma (P. c. concolor)
  • Puma of southern South America (P. c. Puma)

As of 2017, the Cat Specialist Group's Cat Classification Taskforce recognizes only two subspecies as valid:

  • North American cougar (P. c. Couguar) - In Central and North America, and possibly in northwestern South America.
  • South American cougar (P. c. concolor) - In Southamerica

The rarest subspecies is the American cougar (Puma concolor coryi), popularly known as the Florida Panther. It is the smallest of all species and has a characteristic red tint to the hair on its back, as well as having a large dark spot in the center. Unfortunately, it is in danger of extinction.

Features

Cougars live an average of 12 years, although in captivity they have lived to be 25 years old. The size varies according to the distribution, they tend to be smaller when it is closer to the equator and larger at the poles.

It is a slender animal, adults are between 60 - 90 cm tall (up to the shoulders). Males are around 2,4 meters in length, from head to tail. They usually weigh between 53 - 100 kg with an average weight of 68 kg. Females are around 2,05 m and weigh between 29 - 64 kg, with an average of 55 kg.

The head is round and the eyes are wide to allow them to see ahead and a little around them. Their ears are pointed and their hatreds are watery enough to allow them to hear prey, when darkness prevents them from seeing them.

It has a thick coat of hair that helps it maintain body temperature during the cold winter. The color of the fur varies by species and habitat, ranging from yellowish brown to reddish gray. The gray pumas live in cold regions and those of the warm regions the red color has more presence.

The hind legs are muscular, long and strong than the front legs, which allows them to be more agile when jumping, being able to jump distances of up to 6 meters.

One of the most curious characteristics of the cougar is that like other big cats it is incapable of roaring.

Close-up of a cougar
Close-up of a cougar

Behavior

The cougar is a solitary animal, except for the females that must spend some time with their young. Sometimes they tend to share the killings, organizing themselves into small communities defined by the territories of the dominant males.

The size of the territories varies considerably. Canadian Geographic reports male territories between 150 - 1000 km² and with mid-range territories for females.

They roam extensive territories in search of food, where the walks can vary from 120 m² in summer to 60 m² in winter because the snow restricts some areas of the mountains.

When winter comes, mountain forests can become very hostile and they are forced to migrate into the valleys to escape the cold.

Their great adaptability allows them to move between rocks very quickly and with great agility. They are also capable of hunting both during the day and at night.

They have a great jumping capacity thanks to their hind legs and can move at a maximum speed in the race between 64 - 80 km / h. He prefers long runs to chases.

He is adept at climbing, which allows him to escape from his predators. It has the ability to swim, although it prefers to avoid it.

They have a great variety of sounds that they use to warn other cougars that they are in their territory or to look for a mate during mating season.

Puma on the prowl on a rock
Puma on the prowl on a rock

Habitat

The puma inhabits rocky cliffs and low grasses. Although these are the conditions preferred by the puma, it is an incredibly adaptable animal to the habitats where it is found, that is why it can be found in: forests, tropical jungles, grasslands and even in desert areas.

Currently the human being with the settlements and the clearing of land for agriculture is decreasing the wide distribution of the puma forcing it to retreat to more hostile mountainous areas to flee from humans.

If the cougar didn't have great adaptability, they would be seriously harmed right now.

Distribution

The puma is distributed from the great mountains of Canada to the tip of South America.

Food

The cougar is a carnivorous animal that consumes the meat of other animals in order to survive. The diet is made up of mice, rats, birds, fish, and rabbits.

It can also afford to hunt larger animals, thanks to its large size. To hunt them, the puma jumps on its prey to immobilize it. These prey include sheep, raccoons, goats, and cattle.

Predators

The cougar is considered a dominant predator, so it is rarely preyed upon by other animals. Still they are hunted by bears, wolves and other cougars, when one of them is sick or injured.

Perhaps the greatest predator of the cougar is humans, who hunt them primarily for their fur. They are also victims of the owners of agricultural settlements when they enter to hunt their livestock.

Reproduction

The puma begins to reproduce between the months of December and March. After a gestation period of three months, which are born between February and September, a litter of 6 young is usually born.

The male separates from the female once he has mated and will continue to mate with other females throughout the heat stage.

Like other felines, the young are born totally blind and defenseless for the first two weeks of life until their blue eyes are fully open.

The fur of the hatchlings contains spots to avoid being detected by predators and they will be lost as they grow until they have a single color.

At two months they can begin to eat solid food, although they will remain with their mother for a year.

State of conservation

The cougar is classified by the IUCN as an animal of least concern, despite having decreased its range.

The reason is that it is a very adaptable animal and they are very numerous in mountainous regions.

Relationship with humans

Cougar attacks on humans are very rare, although there are several recorded cases (about 100 attacks) that occur when the cougar is cornered or feels threatened.

Another possibility is the attacks that are produced by extreme famine, although it is still less frequent than the other attacks, since they do not usually see humans as prey.

In recent years, the population of pumas has been diminished by the loss of habitat and hunting by farmers in defense of livestock.

Popular culture

The puma has been admired in the different cultures of the American indigenous peoples. It is said that the Inca city called Cusco was designed in the shape of a puma and the animal gave its name to different Inca regions and towns. In the Moche town, the puma was represented in ceramics and the god of the sky and thunder called Viracocha was associated with the animal.

In North America, the puma wail was a harbinger of death for the Apaches and Walapai of Arizona. The algoquins and ijibwe believe that it lived in the underworld, while for the Cherokees it was a sacred animal.

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