Species Facts:  The Puma

Call it what you will – cougar, panther, puma, catamount, or mountain lion. This beautiful animal is impossible to ignore.

The Inca reportedly built their capital city Cusco in the shape of a puma.

In what is now New Mexico, the Cochiti people made life-sized statues of this cat and dedicated a mesa to it.

And further north, native legends said the puma could stir up waves and storms on the Great Lakes.

Today, we’re not immune to the puma’s charisma, either.

Read on for more facts about this namesake of the puma lineage.

Who’s this?

Puma concolor is the other big cat of the Americas (after jaguars).

Technically, it’s closer to the small cats because it can purr, but any feline that has a five-foot-long body, with a three-foot-long tail, and can weigh up to 180 pounds is not exactly a lap cat.

Puma size varies according to its range. Cats in Chile and Canada are at the high end of the scale, while those living in jaguar country tend to be smaller, weighing as little as 60 pounds.

Cubs may be spotted or striped, but those markings fade away in an adult. This is why early North American settlers called the cat a panther – it was a solid color, generally a tawny brown to silvery gray, depending on location.

How friendly/dangerous is it?

This cat can kill you. Although attacks are rare, they are on the rise because more people are moving into the puma’s range.

Here are some safety tips to remember when going for a walk.

When did it evolve?

Pumas go way back, to the late Pliocene. Their fossilized remains have been found in North America and Eurasia.

When North and South America hooked up, pumas traveled south. This turned out to be a very good move for them.

At the end of last Ice Age, many big animals, including the puma, went extinct in North America. As the world warmed back up, South America’s pumas recolonized the north.

Today this cat is the most widespread carnivore in the Western Hemisphere, ranging from the Yukon across western North America through Central and South America to the southern tip of Chile.

The Cool Factor:

It’s easy to see something human in the sleek lines of this cat, its prim but whiskery muzzle, and its expressive face.

The puma is a survivor, too. Except for a small population in Florida, it went extinct throughout eastern and central North America after European settlers arrived. Now this cat is making a comeback.

It’s also a tremendous athlete. With the longest hind legs of any member of the cat family, in proportion to its body, the puma is an excellent jumper, climber, and swimmer.

In real life, this cat is even cooler than the Pink Panther.

Featured image: Female puma, near Glendale and Los Angeles, leaving a scent mark in the Verdugo Mountains. National Park Service. CC BY 2.0.

Puma profile: Skeeze at Pixabay.

Standing puma: Kaz at Pixabay.

Cat Specialist Group: Puma. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=94 Last accessed October 7, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada: Cougar. http://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/north-america/cougar/ Last accessed October 7, 2017.

International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada: Safety in Cougar Country. https://wildcatconservation.org/canadian-cats/cougar-safety/ Last accessed October 7, 2017.

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