Puma is the largest predator of the New World cat family. Once it was ranked as a genus, which includes ordinary cats and lynxes. But, since it does not look like either one or the other, it was decided to separate it into a separate genus. Another name for this strong, graceful animal is the cougar.
Origin of the species and description
The name of this predator comes from the dialect of the Peruvian Indians. This nation believed in the legend that the cougar was a lost child who chose the wrong path in life. Perhaps this saying has developed due to the fact that cougars often hunted livestock.
Another name for the cougar is the American lion. This name was given to her by settlers from the New World. The inhabitants were proud of their way of life, the fact that they had to live in harsh conditions of constant danger, where at any moment they could be attacked by this formidable animal.
Interesting fact: The cougar is included in the number of world achievements and is included in the Guinness Book of Records as the animal with the most names. There are more than 40 names of the royal cat in the English-speaking countries alone.
In the past, it was believed that there were more than 25 species of these animals. But in the modern world, on the basis of genetic expertise, only 6 varieties are distinguished, of which 4 are already extinct:
- Puma pardoides;
- Puma inexpectatus;
- Puma pumoides;
- Puma trumani.
The living subspecies Puma concolor and Puma yagouaroundi are found in the Americas. Previously, the jaguarundi subspecies was distinguished as a separate genus Herpailurus Severtzov, 1858. However, studies at the molecular genetic level have found a close relationship between these species, as a result of which the current taxonomists classify them as one and the same genus.
Interesting fact: The black cougar subspecies has not yet found scientific confirmation of its existence and is most likely a fiction. In most cases, these are cougars with dark brown hair, which from a distance can be mistaken for black.
Another DNA study has shown that the closest relative of these predatory cats is the cheetah. Its unusual physique gave a reason to separate it into a separate family Acinonychinae, however, its close relationship with cougars still made it necessary to attribute the cheetah to the family of small cats.
Appearance and features
Puma is quite a large wild a cat that is second only to the jaguar in size in the Americas. Males always exceed the size of females and look much larger. Northern cougars are usually larger than southern ones.
- Body length – from 110 to 180 cm;
- Tail length – from 60 to 70 cm;
- Weight – from 29 to 105 kg.
At the withers – from 60 to 85 cm;
Puma physique is massive, but flexible. Strong slender paws are equipped with sharp claws, 4 fingers on the front, 5 on the back. It is convenient for the animal to hold prey and climb trees with retractable claws. The head is relatively small and slightly elongated. There are black areas on the muzzle and ears. The jaw and teeth are very strong, allowing them to break bones.
Interesting fact: The age of a cougar is determined by its teeth. By 4 months, all milk teeth erupt, which soon fall out and by 6-8 months, permanent ones begin to be cut. In 1.5-2 years, all teeth grow. With age, they wear down and darken.
The long powerful tail acts as a balancer when making jumps. A wild cat can jump up to 7 meters in length, and up to 2 meters in height. On the hunt while chasing prey, mountain lions can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour.
Thick and extremely short hair does not have a pronounced pattern. The fur is red, sandy in color, which resembles a lion color. Of the differences – size, lack of a mane, tassels on the tail and a pink nose. There is a whitish tint on the belly. Baby cougars are born spotted, like a lynx, their coat is thicker and softer.
Cubs open their eyes 2 weeks after birth. Newborn cougars have blue eyes, but after six months it changes to brown or amber. The pattern on the coat begins to fade at the age of 9 months, the spots disappear and completely disappear at 2 years.
Where does the cougar live?
The cougar's habitat ranges from the Rocky Mountains in the North American continent to Patagonia in the south. Due to their adaptability to any living conditions, the habitat of these predators is very diverse – from lowland forests and mountain landscapes to tropical jungles and wetlands. These animals are secretive and avoid strongly open places.
Previously, cougars lived in different parts of America, their range was the widest compared to all other mammals on the continent. But due to mass extermination, the animals had to leave their former habitats. Their places of residence coincide with their main prey – deer. The main selection criteria are places to hide and an abundance of food.
The prevalence of places where these animals can be found has led locals to give them inaccurate or poetic names. Some subspecies are named after their habitat. Where this predator lives depends on its species. But basically they all prefer places with a minimum of open area and with the ability to ambush.
Since big cats are solitary by nature, males choose quite extensive territories for themselves, which range from 20 to 50 square kilometers. While females are less demanding and occupy an area of 10-20 square kilometers.
What does the cougar eat?
Puma is a natural predator . Her appetites often outweigh her ability to eat her prey. On average, they eat up to 1300 kg of meat per year every year. This is about 48 ungulates.
It hunts a variety of animals, depending on habitat:
- mountain sheep;
- wild boars.
Cougars do not distinguish livestock from wild animals, so sheep, cats, and dogs may well become their victims. Since they can only disdain a skunk, they also hunt frogs, insects, and snails. Skunks often have time to use their smelly weapons and cougars ignore these animals.
Mountain lions are quite bold animals and usually attack prey that is much larger than their size. At first, they follow the prey from the shelter, quietly sneak up, and then pounce on the prey from behind and break the cervical vertebrae or strangle. The speed of running and the ability to climb trees allow the cougar to catch up with ostriches and catch monkeys in the trees.
These animals are very voracious. They will never leave a half-eaten lunch and will not share it. Cougars always return to the scene of the kill, either hiding the remains in the snow or burying them in leaves in reserve. Cougars do not like to run after victims. If the first jump does not strike the victim, the cats will not pursue the prey for a long time.
Anteaters, armadillos, coyotes, marmots, squirrels, insects, small birds for American lions are a light, not satisfying snack. In pursuit of prey, cougars look especially impressive and elegant in a jump. They usually hunt in the dark, but on a hot day they like to lie on the sunny edge.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Since cougars are individualists by nature, each individual occupies quite large possessions. Predators mark the boundaries of their territory with urine, feces and notches on trees. Sites of opposite-sex individuals may overlap, but males never enter each other's territories if they feel that the property has an owner.
It happens that wild cats have to change the situation due to circumstances. They will try to leave foreign areas as quickly as possible and occupy the free zone. The road is long. So, cougars from Wyoming were met in Colorado, and this is five hundred kilometers away.
Mountain lions are very patient and silent animals. If the tiger runs amok in the trap in an attempt to free himself, the puma will calmly get rid of the trap, even if it takes several days. If it is not possible to break out of the shackles, she will fall into melancholy and will silently lie motionless.
Cougars do not attack people and try to avoid them in every possible way. No wonder their character traits are considered modesty. A cougar will not show aggression until it becomes so hungry that it is on the verge of exhaustion or tries to protect its offspring.
Interesting fact: North American Indians believed that cougars were the creatures of the devil. Their roar made everyone tremble with fear. But these cats make the sound of a locomotive whistle only when they are angry, the rest of the time they purr like cats.
Social structure and reproduction
The mating season of American lions lasts short – from December to March. Pairs form for about 2 weeks, then break up again. Only those cats that have their own territory tend to breed. Males may mate with several females living in nearby areas.
At this time, fights take place between the males for the chosen ones with a loud growl. The winner tries to cover as many females as possible from within his area. The estrus lasts 9 days. During the mating season, like other cats, cougars make heartbreaking sounds.
The average gestation period is 95 days. In one litter, from two to six spotted kittens can appear, up to 30 cm in length and weighing up to half a kilogram. After a couple of weeks, the babies open their eyes, ears, the first teeth begin to grow. With age, the patterns on the body and the rings on the tail disappear.
Watching the mother cougars in the zoo, it became clear that the females do not let anyone near the cubs and do not even let them look at them. The first appearance will take place about a month after birth. Up to a month and a half, babies are fed with mother's milk, then they switch to solid food.
The mother takes care of the children until they are two years old, after which the teenagers have to find their own possessions. For some time they can stay as a group, but then they go their separate ways. Females are ready to breed at 2.5 years old, males – at 3. On average, they live 15-18 years in the wild, in captivity – more than 20 years.
Natural enemies Cougars
Cougars have practically no natural enemies. However, they are still afraid of black bears, jaguars, grizzlies, crocodiles, black caimans, packs of wolves and large Mississippian alligators. Baribals and grizzlies can often feast on captured cougar prey. Usually these animals attack weak, old or injured cougars.
One of the enemies is a man who sets traps and traps for cougars, shoots cats for profit. Cougars are very fast animals and if she can dodge a shot from a gun, then a trap will make her suffer for a long time. If it fails to free itself, it will silently wait for the hunter.
US President Theodore Roosevelt created the Society for the Protection of Animals, but at the same time he allowed to exterminate cougars with impunity with the support of the head of the zoological community of New York. After that, hundreds of thousands of mountain lions were destroyed on the territory of America.
With the advent of Europeans on the American continent, mass destruction of cougars began due to predators attacking livestock as easy money. One of the subspecies has received the name «horse destroyer» in several states. After that, the hunt for cougars began with dogs, driving them into trees, where cats could be easily shot.
Population and species status
Despite the fact that hunting for cougars is prohibited in almost all states, due to attacks the extermination of American lions continues on cattle farms. But, although their habitats become unusable due to environmental destruction, thanks to their easy adaptation to any living conditions, most species are quite numerous.
Being on the verge of extinction in the 20th century in the United States, the population of cougars in the west alone has about 30 thousand adults and continues to populate the state to the south and east. Adaptation to any landscape helps cougars increase in numbers.
Due to the intrusion into the range of mountain lions, the population of the Florida cougar has reached dangerous levels and is currently under threat. Sport hunting, drainage of swamps and felling of tropical forests led to the extinction of the species. In 1979, there were close to 20 individuals. Natural reproduction is no longer possible and wild cats are taken under protection.
Poverty of the genetic material leads to the birth of babies with deviations and deformities, as a result of which immunity decreases and susceptibility to diseases increases. At the moment, all individuals live in the territories of the Florida reserve and their number is 160 units.
For a long time, scientists believed that the eastern cougar, originally from Canada and the United States, was on the list of extinct. But in the 1970s, several adults were discovered in the city of New Brunswick, which were immediately taken under protection. In a few years, they managed to breed up to 50 individuals.
Three subspecies of cougars are listed in CITES Appendix I: Puma concolor couguar, Puma concolor coryi, Puma concolor costaricensis. Hunting for them is prohibited in all countries or is limited. However, pastoralists or game owners continue to protect their farms from mountain lions by killing cougars that prey on livestock.
The Florida cougar Puma concolor coryi is officially listed in the IUCN Red List and is endowed with the status «is in critical condition». It is strictly controlled, reserves and reserves are created, where radio receivers are hung to track the movements of animals. In zoos, animals take root well and bring offspring.
Scientists are working on the possibility of crossing the species of the Florida cougar with the rest. It is planned to resettle American lions in other states, but this task is not an easy one. Florida forests are disappearing many times faster than, for example, the forests of South America.
Currently, attempts are being made to domesticate wild cats as pets. However, there are always risks to human security. Those who want to bring such an exotic animal into the house must remember that these powerful and graceful predators do not like to obey anyone and are quite freedom-loving.
Puma is a rather peaceful creature in relation to humans. They have been shown to shy away from tall people. The victims of attacks are mostly children or undersized people wandering through the mountain lion's territory at night. When confronted with an animal, it is not recommended to run, look into his eyes and scream.