The reclusive cougars — also called pumas, catamounts, mountain lions or panthers and, perhaps most fittingly, “ghost cats, is the second largest cat in North America. Unlike other big cats, however, the cougar cannot roar. Instead, the large feline purrs like a house cat. Cougars also have similar body types to house cats, only on a larger scale. They have slender bodies and round heads with pointed ears. They vary between, 5-9 ft from head to tail. While males can weigh up to 150 lb, females weigh less, topping out at nearly 100 lb. The coat of the cougar is a grayish tan to reddish color with lighter parts on the underside. The tail has a black spot on the end.
Inhabiting various ecosystems from mountains to deserts to sea-level, the cougar’s established range includes western North America, a small region in Florida, and most of South America. They make their home anywhere that there is shelter and prey. Generally they prey on deer but also feed on smaller animals if necessary, including domestic animals and livestock. Cougars have even been known to eat insects. Skilled and cunning hunters, cougars stay hidden from their prey until they can pounce with claws out-stretched.
Cougars can also climb with ease and leap over 20 ft. After killing a large animal, a cougar hides the carcass for the most part, and eats in the coming days. most part, the cougar has no natural enemies and sits atop the food chain. However, they occasionally compete with other predators such as bears and wolves for food. During most of their lives, cougars are solitary creatures. They interact only to mate, which can happen at any time of year.
Females can breed as early as 2-3 years old and give birth to 2-3 kittens at a time. They raise the young while the males return to their solitary lifestyles. At around two years old, cougar offspring will leave their mother to start their own life. Some travel far to establish their own territory, as cougars need a lot of room to roam. A healthy cougar in the wild can live to around 10 years of age. In captivity, cougars can live as long as 20 years.
Cougars have long been killed by both sport hunters and farmers protecting their livestock. Other threats to cougar populations include habitat loss and fragmentation and automobile accidents. As a result, the cougar population has significantly decreased. There are still, however, several thousand cougars in the wild. Although they once ranged widely throughout North and South America, the cougars were largely wiped out from the eastern portion of the United States and Canada by European settlers in the 1700s. There is a small population in Florida, a subspecies known as the Florida panther.
The Florida panther is considered to be critically endangered; Furthermore, in recent years, sightings of cougars in the northeast United States and eastern Canada have been on the rise. Although many are the result of former captive cougars that escaped or were released, there is a possibility of recolonization of cougars in the East and South.