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Species Facts

The puma is known by many appellations to many peoples. The species’ colorful and descriptive assortment of names includes cougar, mountain lion, shadow cat, ghost cat, catamount, panther, and screamer.

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The largest native American cat, the puma has attained big cat size while retaining the cranial proportions of the small cats. The puma shares the shape of its nose, its wide skull, and its short face with the small cats. Also, the species does not roar in the manner of lions and leopards, but purrs like the smaller cats.

The weights of pumas vary over its vast geographic range. Puma living at the northern limits of its range weigh roughly twice as much as those found in the tropics in the southern limits. Like most cats, males are larger and heavier than the females, weighing 40-60 percent more. 

Interestingly, the puma has unusually long hind legs. These are an adaptation for jumping and also enable the cat to produce a burst of high speed. The puma can leap 20 feet straight up a cliff and can perform downhill leaps of 30 to 40 feet. Like the cheetah, the puma has a long spinal column, which allows increased flexion while running. 

The puma is a plain-colored cat. Its coat color varies from grizzled gray to dark brown, with intermittent shades of buff, tawny, and cinnamon red. The underparts, chin, and throat are whitish in color, and the sides of the white muzzle are framed in black. The ears are small and rounded and the tail is long, cylindrical with a black tip. In warm, humid areas, puma tend to be darker in color than the ones found in drier habitats.

Behavior

This solitary cat travels extensively while hunting, killing and eating prey that ranges in size from mice to moose. It can be found hunting at any time of the day or night. In most areas, however, it has been observed to be active around dawn and at dusk. Then, it normally rests during the day. The puma can swim and climb trees when needed, often taking refuge in trees when pursued by dogs. 

Diet

Across most of North America, deer make up most of the puma’s diet. In Central and South America, pumas feed on mainly on a variety of small- to medium-sized prey. While hunting, the puma takes full advantage of grass, bushes, rocks, cliffs, or any other suitable feature of terrain to stalk as close to its prey as possible before making the final rush. Attacking another animal can be dangerous for the puma, especially if the prey is large. The puma can be injured or killed in struggles on steep and unstable terrain. 

This distribution map shows the North and South American continents. Most of South America is shaded in, as well as most of the western United States and southwestern Canada. There are a few random spots shaded in Florida and central Canada and US as well.

Species Distribution

The geographic range of the puma is the largest of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. It reaches from Canada, through areas of the United States, and down through Central and South America. Within this extensive range, the species inhabits a variety of habitats from sea level to about 5,800 meters. These habitats include tropical rainforests, seasonally flooded savannas, semi-arid scrublands, and high mountains. Although the puma is adaptable to a wide range of vegetative and environmental conditions, it must have access to stalking cover (including rocks, cliffs, sagebrush, and trees). 

Distribution map courtesy of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), compiled in 2015.

Threats to the Mountain Lion

Threats to this cat include loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction, and retaliatory killing of puma when puma kill humans or livestock. This has been called the human-puma conflict. The puma is classified as Least Concern (LC) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and protected under appendices I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

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