Though often referred to as one of the Big Cats, technically it is not. It is a wildcat and it is just ‘big’. Big Cats actually refer to those that belong to genus ‘Panthera’. Those that don’t belong to this genus are not classified as Big Cats. Puma belongs to the genus ‘Puma’. In this write-up on Puma facts, we are going to learn about some of the most fascinating aspects of this incredible and majestic wild cat. So, without further ado, let’s begin…
PUMA, PANTHER, MOUNTAIN LION, COUGAR, CATAMOUNT, PAINTER, MOUNTAIN SCREAMER etc. are all names of a single wildcat – the Puma.
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1. Puma is called by many names like ‘Cougar’, ‘Mountain Lion’, ‘Panther’, ‘Catamount’ etc. Its scientific name is Puma concolor. Its native place is North and South America.
2. These majestic creatures are spread across from the Yukon of Canada to the southern Andes of South America. They are present in almost all the habitats – forests, mountainous deserts or lowlands. However, they prefer canyons, rocks, dense bushes etc.
3. It is the most widespread wild mammal (terrestrial) in the whole of the western hemisphere. Puma is the biggest wild cat in North America. In terms of weight, it takes the second position in the whole of the western hemisphere. The heaviest wild cat of the western hemisphere is Jaguar.
Note: Jaguar belongs to the subfamily Pantherinae.
5. It is mostly nocturnal and crepuscular (active during twilight hours). It is an ambush predator i.e., these predators wait and hunt with a strategy, hence they are also known as ‘sit-and-wait’ predators.
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6. Puma hunts both big mammals like deer or other livestock and small rodents and insects. They are not at the top of the food chain. It means that there are animals like Grey Wolf, Jaguar or Grizzly Bear who hunt Puma. It is territorial (just like other cats).
7. In the first point itself, we gave some of the famous names used for Puma. But they are not all! These wild cats are also called as ‘Painter’, ‘Mountain Screamer’ etc. ‘Puma’ is the most famous of all and scientist refer to this wildcat as Puma.
8. Did you know that there 40 English names for Puma? It holds the Guinness record for the highest number of names for an animal.
9. The word Puma was first time used in English in the year 1777. It is derived from the Spanish language. Spanish language, in turn, borrowed this word from Quechua language (one of the South American languages). Puma means powerful.
10. Puma is the largest of the small cats. Its family, Felidae, is believed to have evolved around 11 million years ago in Asia. According to the studies of genomics, it is believed that common ancestor of Puma, Lynx, Felis, Leopardus etc. migrated from Asia to the Americas via Bering Land Bridge about 8 to 8.5 million years ago.
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11. Carl Linnaeus placed Puma in the Felis (domestic cat) genus. However, it is now placed in the genus Puma. Puma is closely related to Cheetah and Jaguarundi (a small wild cat). It is sometimes suggested that the cheetah actually diverged from the lineage of Puma and reached Africa and Asia.
12. There were 32 subspecies of Puma in the 1980s. But some of the subspecies were too identical or similar to be distinguished. Therefore, the number has been reduced from 32 to 6 subspecies. They are:
- Puma concolor costaricensis or Costa Rican cougar
- Puma concolor concolor or Northern South American cougar
- Puma concolor puma or Southern South American cougar
- Puma concolor cabrerae or Argentine cougar
- Puma concolor anthonyi or Eastern South American cougar
- Puma concolor couguar or North American cougar
13. The Puma has a round head and erect ears. It has five claws on each forepaw and four claws on each hind paw. In the cat family, Puma is the fourth largest cat in the whole world. It has a yellowish or tan coat. Adults are usually 24 to 35 inches or 60 to 90 centimeters tall. From nose to the tip of the tail, the males are 7.9 feet or 2.4 meters long and the females are 6.7 feet or 2.05 meters long. On an average, they are 4.9 to 9 feet or 1.50 to 2.75 meters long from nose to tail tip.
14. Adult male Pumas weigh 117 lbs. to 220 lbs. or 53 kilograms to 100 kilograms whereas the females weigh 64 lbs. to 141 lbs. or 29 kilograms to 64 kilograms. The habitats of Puma which are closer to the equator have Pumas of smallest size and near the poles, they are larger.
15. They can be bigger or smaller than the Jaguars (based on the location). But Jaguars are more powerful and have better muscle build than the Pumas.
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16. Though it is of such big size, it is not considered as one of the Big Cats because it can’t roar like the members of the genus, Panthera (Members are Tiger, Lion, Jaguar, Leopard and Snow Leopard. Even Snow Leopard can’t roar but is still included in the list. It can chuff.). Puma can however hiss, growl, chirp, whistle and also purr. They are quite famous for their screams as well and hence named ‘Mountain Screamer’.
17. Unlike other cats, it has a plain color (concolor in Latin means plain). The cubs are born spotted and have blue eyes. Their tails have rings on them.
18. Pumas have the largest hind legs in the family Felidae. They can run at maximum speed of 40 to 50 miles per hour or 64 to 80 kilometers an hour. They do well in short sprint than in long chases. They are adept at climbing and they can swim as well.
19. As with other cats, Pumas are also obligate carnivores. This means they survive only on meat. They hunt from deer to insects. Some of their prey are elk, mule deer, bull moose, horse, cattle, mountain goat, pronghorn, hares, raccoons, rhea, wild turkey, beavers etc.
20. Once a Puma hunts a deer-like animal, the prey provides sufficient food for 14 days. However, a female Puma that is raising cubs will eat up a deer-like animal in just 3 days. They are not scavengers (scavengers are the animals which feed on dead animals). But sometimes, they do eat dead animals.
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21. Female Pumas reach sexual maturity at the age between a year and a half to three years. Usually, they produce one litter every 2-3 years but there are documented cases where they produce a litter every year. They have an estrous cycle of 8 days. The gestation period is nearly 3 months.
22. The litter size is generally two but may range between 1 to 6. The cubs are born blind and they are weaned (adapted to eat other food apart from the milk of their mother) only after they attain the age of 3 months.
23. The survival rate of the cubs is just one cub per litter. The responsibility of upbringing of the cubs totally falls on the females as the males leave the female after mating.
24. As mentioned earlier, the cubs are born with spots on their body which fade as they grow. The spots eventually vanish by the time the cubs reach two to two and a half years. The cubs stay with their mothers for 1 to 2 years (male cubs leave sooner).
25. Life expectancy of the Pumas in the wild is 13 years (average is 8 to 10 years). While in captivity, they live up to 20 years. A male North American cougar (Puma concolor cougar), called ‘Scratch’ lived nearly 30 years.
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26. Here is one of the most heart-breaking Mountain Lion facts or Puma facts: causes of the death of Pumas usually include the inability to hunt, starvation, competition, human hunting, accidents, diseases etc.
27. As other cats, the Pumas more or less live a solitary life. But sometimes, they organize themselves into communities and share the kill with the community. The area of such community ranges between 58 to 386 square miles or 150 to 1000 square kilometers.
28. The area of the community of the females is generally half the area of males. They mark these areas with their feces or urine.
29. The Pumas were nearly wiped out from eastern North America after the Europeans colonized North America. DNA studies have shown that the Pumas are slowly recolonizing eastern North America again.
30. One of the most interesting of Mountain Lion facts or Puma facts is that the Grey Wolves and Pumas fight each other directly and influence each other’s numbers in the area.
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31. There is a hybrid of Puma. Pumapard is a hybrid between Puma and Leopard. They are usually dwarfed. These Pumapards grow half the size of their parents.
32. IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, earlier WCU – World Conservation Union) declared Puma as Least Concern (doesn’t fall under endangered or critically endangered etc. category). However, in Central and South American countries, they are being protected.
33. The indigenous people who resided in the Americas admired Pumas. Cusco’s city Inca was given the shape of a Puma and they named areas and people after these majestic cats. Viracocha, the thunder and sky God of the Inca was related to the Puma.
34. Puma is known as the Mountain Lion because of the similarity of Puma’s skin color with Lion and because it lives on mountains.
35. Florida Panther, a subspecies of the Puma, is one of the rarest and smallest Pumas in the world.