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Wild Things: Cougars

Cougar in the Wild

Cougars are also known as pumas, mountain lions and panthers. And no, they’re not pink!

Physical Characteristics

Depending on the region in which they live, cougars are also called pumas, mountain lions and panthers by local residents and experts. Cougars are native to the Americas, and are large, solitary cats that have the greatest range of any wild, land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada all the way down to the Andes of South America.


After the jaguar, the cougar is the second-heaviest cat found in the Americas, and the fourth-heaviest in the world along with the leopard, following the tiger, lion and jaguar.


Here’s an interesting fact: In southern parts of the cougar’s range, this feline is often called a “painter,” which is a variation of the word “panther.” The reason being that cougars’ tails are black at the very end, making it look like the cougar dipped its tail in black paint.


Slender and agile, cougars are actually considered the largest of the small cats species, rather than the smallest of the big cat species. Still, their size and some physical characteristics seem to be related to certain members of the big cats.


Cougars boast powerful hind legs, necks and jaws to grasp and hold large prey, as well as retractable claws to clutch prey. While cougars can be almost as big as jaguars, they are less muscled and powerful. Also, cougars can’t roar like the big cats, but they are very well-known in the wilderness of North and South America for their spine-tingling screams.


Hunting Habits

Cougars are stalk-and-ambush predators that pursue a wide variety of prey including deer, elk, bighorn sheep, cattle, horses, domestic sheep, rodents and even insects. Even though they can sprint, cougars prefer to hide and pounce on their prey than to chase after it.


While cougars are considered large predators, they are not always the dominant species in their habitat – other predators, like the jaguar, grey wolf, black bear and grizzly bear can easily beat a cougar in a competition for prey.


Home and Habitat

Cougars prefer to live in habitats that have dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking. Like almost all cats, they are solitary creatures – only mothers and their kittens live in groups, and adults only meet to mate.


Conservation Status

After Europeans settled in the Americas, cougar populations dropped due to loss of their habitat and hunting. Now, cougars are listed by the World Conservation Union as a near threatened species.


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