Panther? Mountain lion? Puma? Cougar? They are all the same! The cougar (Felis concolor) is a large cat native to the Americas. Its range spans from northwest Canada to the southern Andes in South America.
Cougars are most closely related to jaguarundi and cheetahs. They all belong to the family Felidae and are believed to have originated from Asia 11 million years ago. However, much of what is known regarding their evolutionary history is only based on mitochondrial DNA analysis.
Cougars play a significant role in the ecosystem. They help prevent the population of ungulate species from becoming more extensive than their habitat can support. Although conflicts usually occur with other predators and scavengers, no species preys on mature cougars in the wild except humans.
We’ve put together 10 incredible cougar facts to help you learn a little more about this powerful predator.
1. The cougar holds the Guinness record for the animal with the highest number of names
Their incredible variety of names is no surprise, considering their vast range. The cougar has over forty English names. “Puma” is one of the most common names in Latin America and several parts of Europe. The first use of puma dates to 1777, having been introduced in Spanish.
“Mountain lion” was first used in 1858 in the western United States and Canada. It’s believed it was called a mountain lion because lions and cougars have striking similarities. Other names include catamount, panther, red lion, painter, American lion, Mexican lion, and mountain screamer.
2. The cougar is the fourth largest cat species in the world
The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris) holds the title of being the biggest. Cougars come fourth after the lion (Panthera leo) and jaguar (Panthera onca). Adult male cougars are about 7 feet long from nose to nail tip. Adult female cougars are approximately 6 feet tall. Their overall range is between 4 and 9 feet from head to tail. The tail typically accounts for 25 to 37 inches.
Cougars can be smaller or larger than jaguars depending on their locality; they are not muscular and are less powerfully built, but they weigh less on average. Males weigh between 117 and 220 lbs, averaging 150 pounds. Females weigh about 64 and 141 lbs, averaging 121 pounds. The largest recorded cougar, shot in 1901, weighed 232 lb.
3. The cougar is an ambush predator that pursues a wide variety of prey
Cougars are generalists and hypercarnivores. Their diet consists of bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elks, white-tailed deer, and moose. They also prey on smaller animals like lagomorphs, rodents, and birds.
Cougars are typically ambush predators, though they are capable of sprinting. They hide and stalk prey across ledges, in the bushes, and other covered places, before delivering a mighty leap onto the back of the unsuspecting prey.
4. Cougars can leap over twenty-five feet!
Cougars aren’t as fast as cheetahs or as strong as jaguars, but they can leap an incredible twenty-five feet. They have the largest hind legs in the Felidae, which allows for their great leaping and short-sprinting ability. They can also leap from the ground, up to 18 feet, into a fence or tree. A six-to eight-foot fence can not deter a cougar from invading your livestock. You will need at least a 12-foot fence with a four-foot slanted overhang for adequate protection since cougars can jump over a 10-foot fence carrying a small animal in their jaws.
5. Cougar cubs are born with spots to help them hide
Cougar cubs are born with spots to conceal them from predators. Their black spots act as camouflage to help them blend into their environment. These spots usually disappear when the young cougars are about nine months old.
6. Cougars cannot roar, but instead, they purr
One of the most surprising cougar facts is that they cannot roar. They do not have features that allow them to roar. Instead, these fierce cats purr—like the regular domestic cat. They also make other sounds like growls, squeaks, hisses, screams, and whistles, similar to the sounds smaller cats produce.
7. Cougars are solitary animals
Cougars are solitary animals, like almost all cats. Adults rarely meet. Only mothers and kittens live in groups. Despite being loners, cougars share their kills. They also organize themselves into smaller communities led by a dominant male. When males from different communities encounter each other, they vocalize and may engage in violent fights if neither backs down.
8. A cougar can run 55 to 72 kilometers per hour
If you thought cougars were only adapted for short, powerful sprints and not long chases, then you are wrong and should never try to outrun one. These cats can run as fast as 55 to 72 kilometers per hour (34-45 mph.)
Cougars are agile, strong animals that can bound up to nine meters in a single bound. So, it’s not a good idea to run away from a cougar because that might stimulate their instincts and attack. You must fight back if a cougar attacks you. There is no playing dead like you would with a grizzly bear. A cougar will eat you whether you are dead or alive.
9. Cougars are widely distributed in the Western Hemisphere
The cougar has the most extensive range of any wild animal in the Western Hemisphere, living from southern Canada to southern South America. They inhabit all types of forests, lowlands, and mountainous deserts with little vegetation. They are found mainly in the United States, from the Rocky Mountains to California.
10. Cougars have a poor sense of smell
Cougars have a poor sense of smell, so they hunt with their eyes and ears. Their sense of smell is around thirty times better than ours but isn’t well developed compared to other predators. Their eyes take in all the available light, and their night vision is excellent, so they prefer hunting early in the morning and late in the evening.