The cougar (Puma concolor) is a majestic large cat that is found primarily in North America, though it also ranges through Central and South America. Although many people in the world have never seen one, even in zoos, a large number of people in America have never seen one either. This can create some misunderstanding in regard to the animals. Many of those misunderstandings can be easily cleared up with a little more knowledge about these cats.
Cougars are also known as pumas, mountain lions, catamounts and panthers, though it should be noted that a true panther is not a cougar. A real panther is a black phase of a jaguar, which is an entirely different cat. In fact, there is no other cat that is known by so many common names. Over 40 common names have been cataloged for this cat.
Although cougars aren’t considered to be one of the ‘big cats’, which includes lions and tigers, they are the largest wild cat in North America. They are considered to be the largest of the ‘small cats’ and ‘small’ really doesn’t apply to them. Cougars are actually larger than jaguars, though the jaguar is stockier, built closer to the ground and usually weighs more. The other wild cats of America include bobcats and lynxes and the cougar is easily larger than either of these, with size depending on subspecies.
There are a number of subspecies. The largest of these cats show that they are large and very powerfully built predators. A large cougar can measure over nine feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail and they can weigh in excess of 220 pounds. Most cougars are somewhat smaller than this and in some subspecies, an animal weighing over 115 pounds would be quite large. However, even in this case, these are clearly not small cats and they are far larger than domestic cats. In fact, cougars are larger than any other cat except lions and tigers, though they can be outweighed by jaguars.
Cougars are ambush predators, preying extensively on deer and elk. They also have the longest rear legs in proportion to the body of any cat, which allows them to pounce and to chase prey in surprising bursts of speed. A cougar can occasionally put on a burst of speed that allows them to run at 50 miles an hour. Though it regularly kills and eats animals such as deer, cougars will also eat rodents, insects, raccoons, birds and just about any other animal it can catch. It will even consume a porcupine, deftly turning it over to avoid the quills.
These cats are unable to roar like a lion. However, they make many other sounds, from purrs and meows to growls to screams. Hearing a cougar scream in the wild can be terrifying if a person doesn’t know what it is. The animal is secretive, though. They tend to avoid people when possible and with their tawny to brownish coloration, they blend in well against the background. Because of this, they are seldom seen in the wild, even when the population is large. A person is more apt to hear one than to see one.
Even in the color phase that is dark and from whence they are mistakenly called panthers, the cats blend in well to the shadows of dense forests. This color phase would best be called the chocolate phase because it isn’t truly black. Rather it is a very dark chocolate brown.
Cougars are capable climbers and one of their favored methods of hunting is to crouch on a branch above a deer trail. When a deer comes along, this allows the cat to drop down on its prey, bringing it down with a powerful bite to the back of the neck.
Cougars are also good swimmers and on occasion have been seen catching and eating fish and frogs.
The female gives birth to an litter of 1-6 kittens once a year, with a gestation period of about 3 months. The male plays no part in raising the young, but the female is extremely aggressive in protection of its kittens. Female cougars have been known to attack and chase away grizzly bears when the cougar was protecting her young.
These cats have few creatures that dare prey upon them, except man. In fact, many die of starvation rather than from being attacked by other animals. These predators are exceptionally important in maintaining healthy deer populations, though. In areas where cougars have been hunted out, deer tend to over populate rapidly, which leads to weaker deer herds.
Cougars have an enormous range and they are found from the Yukon in Canada to the southern tip of the Andes mountains in South America. They are found in lowland, prairies, deserts and in mountains, from coast to coast. In many places, they are protected. However, this apex predator is considered to be a species of least concern, meaning that it isn’t presently in danger of extinction. In places where they are hunted, the goal is normally to maintain a strong breeding population rather than to exterminate the animals.
Attacks on people by Cougars are exceptionally rare. The chances of an attack can be lessened even more by remembering that if you are so tremendously fortunate as to see a cougar in the wild, don’t run from it. Running spurs a cat’s instinct to give chase. Instead, shout, wave your arms and appear to be menacing, though not threatening. Believe it or not, though, you stand more of a chance of being attacked by a squirrel than being attacked by a cougar.
The cougar in the following video is 16-years-old, so she’s an old girl. Notice the size of her paws, though. This isn’t a large cougar and probably only weighs about 80 pounds:
These are stunningly beautiful creatures; muscular, sleek and graceful. Like so many other wild animals, they aren’t to be feared. Instead, cougars should be respected. They have a quite important role in nature.
To dispel one myth, though, the meanest dog is no match for a cougar. A smart dog won’t even think of taking on one of these cats. An animal that can chase away a grizzly bear is capable of defending itself against any animal it is likely to meet, with the exception of a person armed with a high powered weapon. They might look a lot like a house cat, but they most decidedly aren’t.