The Cougar, Panther, Puma, or Mountain Lion - America's Second Largest Cat
Cougars or Mountain Lions
Though these very large cats second only in the Americas to the Jaguar in size have always been present, they've recently marched across America in quite the reverse manner of doing so as the European Savages had done in the formation of the United States of America. You see, not too many years ago Mountain Lions or Cougars were mostly thought to be, with some exceptions, and out West kinda cat.
Yes there are many subspecies of Cougar or Panther, and the state of Florida has one that has always been there, and hopefully always will be there. The facts of the matter are that for the rest of us, those of us not living in or around Florida or California, the North American Mountain Lion, or Cougar is now a probable neighbour. No, the cat with many names is not the sort of neighbour that stays and gets to know you, but more the kind of transient or drifter that city police or sheriffs like in classic films such as Easy Rider were so pleased to run out of town and allow to feel nothing in the way of local hospitality.
The Cougar Or Mountain Lion
Thirty Two Sub Species of Cougar
- Cougar Subspecies | Panthera
Cougar SubspeciesWhile 32 subspecies have been classically described, the latest genetic analyses suggest that there are six subspecies,* but ongoing debate surrounds a possible seventh (the Florida panther): P. c. cougar: North America P. c. corryi:
The Day The Puma Pounced
- Tales from Afar: The Day the Puma Pounced
This is a five-part series of odd or interesting stories from far-away lands. All of them are true. "The Day the Puma Pounced" is about one woman's experience working with pumas and monkeys in Bolivia.
Puma concolor - or Mountain Lion, A Big Cat With Many Names
According to the Guinness book of World Records, no other animal has as many common names in the English language as does the Cougar. Why does the second largest cat of the Americas have so many names? Well, just look at it's territory, this is one successful cat. It's also obvious from the distribution map that the Cougar or Mountain Lion will also have many another name in other languages such as Spanish or Portuguese too.
In biological terms a super successful and widely adaptable species of critter such as the Cougars of the Americas is referred to as a generalist species, and what is meant by this is that the critter in question can make use of a wide variety of resources in a wide variety of different environmental conditions.
Think of an herbivore like the Chinese Panda - the thing eats bamboo, and that's about it. Without bamboo, the Chinese Panda is no more. The Panda simply can not live without bamboo. The Chinese Panda has not adapted to where it can survive without bamboo, and it probably will not adapt or evolve in such a manner allowing for it to live without bamboo.
Not so the Cougar! From most of the way North in Canada all the way South to nearly the Southern most tip of South America, the Cougar can and does find things to eat, and lives comfortably in every environment found in that huge North to South range of lands.
Cougar Distribution - It's WIDER Than Wikipedia's Map
Now I included the Wikipedia cougar distribution map to illustrate how far North To South in the Americas that cougars or mountain lions can be found. The map, however, is wrong. Cougars are found further east, in fact, they are found coast to coast in the continental United States. From looking at that map it's almost debatable as to whether or not cougars were thought to be in my county of Texas.
I don't need a stinking map, I can hear them outside in the distance once or twice a year. One of the names of this cat is Mountain Screamer, and you can just trust me, I hope, when I say that they don't have to be on a Mountain to be screaming. Maybe the Wiki map was just meant to illustrate breeding pairs or something, the same Wikipedia article on cougars goes on to say that a cougar had been shot all the way east to Connecticut.
Jaguarundi (Top), and Cheetah (Bottom) - Cougar Relatives
Cougar Taxonomy and Evolution
Now in my life I've mostly heard this large cat referred to not as a Cougar or Panther or Puma, but a Mountain Lion. I think that it's just plain for anyone looking at a picture of one of these cats though, that the cougar is not much related to African Lions. They are hardly related even to American Jaguars. While all cats are truly related - it's easy to see a Jaguar is much more closely related to an African Lion, and the cougar is really more of a relative to a common house cat.
Besides me saying all of that, it's also factual.
If one was to seek to find just what species of cat the American Cougar is most closely related too, they would find that it's the Jaguarundi and the Cheetah that American Cougars celebrate the holidays with.
For just a moment I want to talk about evolution. That species change or "evolve" isn't really up for debate, but evolutionary biology is a huge science unto itself, and there are more unresolved issues within that science than there are resolved issues. One of the unresolved issues is, well, the cougar's relationship with the Cheetah. Did some ancient cat migrate to the America's and develop into the cougar, and the same species of cat also develop into the Cheetah? Nope, there's no clear answer. In fact, it's even suggested that some ancient cat of the America's wondered over to the Old World becoming the Cheetah. Nobody knows.
Besides that, there are biologist that recognize thirty two distinct sub species of cougar, and there are biologist that say that every last one of those sub species is too damned similar to even be a sub species because they are all the same freaking cats. Do you get the idea that there's not much settled in evolutionary biology? I hope so.
Deer, Wonderful Cougar Cuisine
Cougars In Texas, By Silva Hayes
- Mountain Lion in Texas
I describe a childhood experience where a mountain lion stalked me one dark summer night in Central Texas.
So what do Cougars eat? Mostly meat, and anything it wants to eat, really. The cougar is an ambush predator that competes directly with jaguars, grey wolves, grizzly bears, and black bears for critters that are tasty. Cougars eat a lot of four legged herbivores such as deer, elk, moose, sheep, cattle, horses, and other things that cost ranchers lots of money. Needless to say, the man or woman that owns a ranch cares very little for cougars. The person into horses, and especially extremely expensive racing horses - is likely to treat you quite nicely should you shoot a cougar in their general neighbourhood.
So far as avid deer hunters go, they should just chill out. Deer populations are at extremely high to dangerous levels in a lot of places, and the cougars on the deer leases should be left alone, but do watch out when you're stalking to your deer stand. Oh, you're likely very well armed, but the cougar is the type to ambush a kill. You won't see the cougar, likely, and the big teeth piercing your jugular might well be the last thing you ever feel.
The cougar is an obligate carnivore, it must kill and eat as much meat as possible to survive. Cougars don't care so much about size, although I'm sure they prefer to know that they've more than they need at the moment, but they'll also eat insects, rats, rabbits, and you get the idea, hopefully.
Baby Cougar, or Cub - Oregon State Zoo
Cougar Life Cycle
I'm giving the female cougars of the world my prestigious best cat mothers award, as female cougars have been reported to successfully fight off grizzly bears in defence of their cubs. Friends, a grizzly bear is about the most powerful mammal in the Americas. The mother cougar is not to be messed with. Besides that, cougar fathers are terrible parents. Actually, that's not true, cougar fathers are sperm donating critters, they are never parents at all.
Momma cougars reach sexual maturity between one and three years of age, and then they typically have cougar cubs worthy of fighting off grizzly bears once every two or three years, one to six cubs per litter. Cougar cubs are born blind and spotted, but they lose the spots and gain eyesight. Sometimes they stay with their super awesome mothers for as long as two and one half years.
As to whether the female cougar prefers younger male cougars...oh never mind.
Young male cougars leave their mother earlier than do female cougars, but generally speaking, the average is around two years time when a cougar goes off on it's own to remain a solitary predator except for during mating or cub rearing times.
Cougars in the wild typically live between eight and thirteen years. An eighteen year old female cougar was shot and died early in the state of Vermont, the oldest wild cougar on record. As is typical, cougars in captivity have lived longer lives, but enjoyed less of the great outdoors. In 2007 a male cougar died in captivity during his thirtieth year of living.
Believe it or not, there is a major problem disease in wild cougars, feline immunodeficiency virus, which correlates exactly to A.I.D.S. in humans, has affected cougar life expectancy in the wild. It's safe to say that blood transfusions in the wild aren't responsible, and neither would be the sharing of cougar needles.
Mountain Lions or Cougars Also Come In Black
While any individual cougar is likely a vastly more powerful animal than any large grey wolf, a pack of grey wolves can and will kill cougars any time they are able, as cougars compete directly with wolf packs for the same prey. Lone wolves ejected from packs due to dominance issues, however, face the grim prospects of confrontation with the ever solitary cougars, and very likely often have dire wolf consequences.
Just as wolves will often kill coyotes, cougars will often kill bobcats and coyotes - when competing for food in the wild, might seems to make right for animal morality. In Yellowstone National Park, cougar kills are often usurped by American black bears. Bears will fight cougars over food, but bears do not actively seek to kill cougars in order to make them into food. Truly, a cougar has no predator other than mankind.
For reasons I can't imagine cougars were bred years ago with leopards in a German zoo, the results almost all died before reaching adulthood. Cougars make for poor hybrid animals, and if I have to tell you that they don't make for pets, then I'd prefer not to bother with you on that issue.
Ancient Native cultures of the Americas universally revered and venerated the cougar for it's grace and it's power. The ancient Inca city of Cusco was designed in the shape of a cougar. The ancient Mocha people loved to represent the cougar on their pottery, and the Inca god of the sky and thunder, Viracocha, is associated with the cougar.
In the Native American cultures of the pre United States, the cougar's wail was always associated with death, and it's nearly caused me a heart attack or two, I'd imagine, but instead, merely brought about massive anxiety attacks aggravated onward by family and other intangibles.
So far as cougar attacks on humans are concerned - it's not something to worry about too much, but happens most often during the late Spring and Summer when juvenile cougars are leaving their mothers. Cougar eating habits are learned, so it's highly unlikely for a cougar to have ever attacked more than one person, if that ever happens, then the first person's remains are likely digested cat food. In the one hundred year time period from 1890 to 1990 there were 53 reported cougar attacks on humans, and of those ten persons died. I can't help but think, however, that the survivors of cougar attacks were severely injured and traumatized. I place the blame for the increase in cougar attacks since that time period on urban sprawl, and so I should tell you that from the years 1890 to 2004, the death toll of humans gained ten lives more. Most cougar attacks have occurred in either California or New Mexico.
In the exceedingly rare case in which a person encounters a cougar, then cougar psychology is important to know. Cougars chase what appears to be fleeing from them, and this is instinctual behaviour for such predators. If one ever comes face to face with a cougar, it is important to NOT show fear, but to spread the arms and legs so as to appear larger and more powerful than one actually is in relation to the cougar, and if possible, throw something at it. Cougars do not want to fight to eat, they like to come up from behind something and pounce on it. Rather obviously, human children attacked by cougars are almost always fatalities.
I hope you've enjoyed this, and possibly learned something that you'd not known before about these beautiful animals, and as always, appreciate nature, don't abuse it.