The cougar, also commonly known as the mountain lion, puma, panther, or catamount, is a large felid of the
subfamily Felinae native to the Americas. Its range, from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South
America, is the greatest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. An adaptable,
generalist species, the cougar is found in most American habitat types. It is the second-heaviest cat in the
New World, after the jaguar. Secretive and largely solitary by nature, the cougar is properly considered both
nocturnal and crepuscular, although there are daytime sightings. The cougar is more closely related to smaller
felines, including the domestic cat (subfamily Felinae), than to any species of subfamily Pantherinae, of which
only the jaguar is native to the Americas.
The cougar is an ambush predator and pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources are ungulates,
particularly deer, but also livestock. It also hunts species as small as insects and rodents. This cat prefers
habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but can also live in open areas. The cougar is
territorial and survives at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation,
and abundance of prey. While large, it is not always the apex predator in its range, yielding to the jaguar,
gray wolf, American black bear, and grizzly bear. It is reclusive and mostly avoids people. Fatal attacks on
humans are rare, but have recently been increasing in North America as more people enter their territories.
Intensive hunting following European colonization of the Americas and the ongoing human development of cougar
habitat has caused populations to drop in most parts of its historical range. In particular, the cougar was
extirpated in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century, except for an isolated Florida panther
subpopulation. Transient males have been verified in Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, the Upper Peninsula
of Michigan, and Illinois, where a cougar was shot in the city limits of Chicago and, in at least one instance,
observed as far east as coastal Connecticut. Reports of eastern cougars (P. c. cougar) still surface, although
it was declared extirpated in 2011.
Cougars are slender and agile members of the cat family. They are the fourth-largest cat; adults stand about 60
to 90 cm (24 to 35 in) tall at the shoulders. Adult males are around 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long from nose to tail tip,
and females average 2.05 m (6.7 ft), with overall ranges between 1.5 to 2.75 m (4.9 to 9.0 ft) nose to tail
suggested for the species in general. Of this length, 63 to 95 cm (25 to 37 in) is comprised by the tail. Males
typically weigh 53 to 100 kg (115 to 220 lb), averaging 62 kg (137 lb). Females typically weigh between 29 and
64 kg (64 and 141 lb), averaging 42 kg (93 lb). Cougar size is smallest close to the equator, and
larger towards the poles. The largest recorded cougar, shot in 1901, weighed 105.2 kg (232 lb); claims of 125.2
kg (276 lb) and 118 kg (260 lb) have been reported, though they were most likely exaggerated. On average,
adult male cougars in British Columbia weigh 56.7 kg (125 lb) and adult females 45.4 kg (100 lb), though
several male cougars in British Columbia weighed between 86.4 and 95.5 kg (190 to 210 lb).
The head of the cat is round and the ears are erect. Its powerful forequarters, neck, and jaw serve to grasp and
hold large prey. It has five retractable claws on its forepaws (one a dewclaw) and four on its hind paws. The
larger front feet and claws are adaptations to clutching prey.
Cougars can be almost as large as jaguars, but are less muscular and not as powerfully built; where their
ranges overlap, the cougar tends to be smaller on average. Besides the jaguar, the cougar is on average larger
than all felids apart from lions and tigers. Despite its size, it is not typically classified among the
"big cats", as it cannot roar, lacking the specialized larynx and hyoid apparatus of Panthera. Compared to
"big cats", cougars are often silent with minimal communication through vocalizations outside of the
mother-offspring relationship. Cougars sometimes voice low-pitched hisses, growls, and purrs, as well as chirps
and whistles, many of which are comparable to those of domestic cats. They are well known for their screams, as
referenced in some of their common names, although these screams are often misinterpreted to be the calls of
other animals or humans.
Cougar coloring is plain (hence the Latin concolor) but can vary greatly between individuals and even between
siblings. The coat is typically tawny, but ranges to silvery-grey or reddish, with lighter patches on the
underbody, including the jaws, chin, and throat. Infants are spotted and born with blue eyes and rings on their
tails; juveniles are pale, and dark spots remain on their flanks. Despite anecdotes to the contrary, all-black
coloring (melanism) has never been documented in cougars. The term "black panther" is used colloquially to
refer to melanistic individuals of other species, particularly jaguars and leopards.
Cougars have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. This physique allows it
great leaping and short-sprint ability. The cougar's top running speed ranges between 64 and 80 km/h (40 and 50
mph), but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, which
allows it to evade canine competitors. Although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.
Hunting and diet
A successful generalist predator, the cougar will eat any animal it can catch, from insects to large ungulates
(over 500 kg). Like all cats, it is an obligate carnivore, meaning it needs to feed exclusively on meat to
survive. The mean weight of vertebrate prey (MWVP) that pumas attack increases with the puma's body weight; in
general, MWVP is lower in areas closer to the equator. Its most important prey species are various deer species,
particularly in North America; mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and even bull moose are taken. Other species
such as the bighorn and Dall's sheep, horse, fallow deer, caribou, mountain goat, coyote, pronghorn, and
domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep are also primary food bases in many areas. A survey of North
America research found 68% of prey items were ungulates, especially deer. Only the Florida panther showed
variation, often preferring feral hogs and armadillos.
A captive cougar feeding. Cougars are ambush predators, feeding mostly on deer and other mammals.
Investigation in Yellowstone National Park showed that elk, followed by mule deer, were the cougar's primary
targets; the prey base is shared with the park's gray wolves, with which the cougar competes for resources.
Another study on winter kills (November–April) in Alberta showed that ungulates accounted for greater than 99%
of the cougar diet. Learned, individual prey recognition was observed, as some cougars rarely killed bighorn
sheep, while others relied heavily on the species.
In Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, scat samples showed raccoons to make up 28% of the cougar's diet, harbor
seals and blacktail deer 24% each, North American river otters 10%, California sea lion 7%, and American mink
4%; the remaining 3% were unidentified.
In the Central and South American cougar range, the ratio of deer in the diet declines. Small to mid-sized
mammals are preferred, including large rodents such as the capybara. Ungulates accounted for only 35% of prey
items in one survey, about half that of North America. Competition with the larger jaguar has been suggested
for the decline in the size of prey items. Other listed prey species of the cougar include mice, porcupines,
beavers, raccoons, hares, guanaco, peccary, vicuna, rhea, and wild turkey. Birds and small reptiles are
sometimes preyed upon in the south, but this is rarely recorded in North America. Not all of their prey is
listed here due to their large range.
Though capable of sprinting, the cougar is typically an ambush predator. It stalks through brush and trees,
across ledges, or other covered spots, before delivering a powerful leap onto the back of its prey and a
suffocating neck bite. The cougar is capable of breaking the neck of some of its smaller prey with a strong
bite and momentum bearing the animal to the ground.
Kills are generally estimated around one large ungulate every two weeks. The period shrinks for females raising
young, and may be as short as one kill every three days when cubs are nearly mature around 15 months. The cat
drags a kill to a preferred spot, covers it with brush, and returns to feed over a period of days. The cougar
is generally reported to not be a scavenger, and rarely consumes prey it has not killed, but deer carcasses
left exposed for study were scavenged by cougars in California, suggesting more opportunistic behavior.
Reproduction and life cycle
Females reach sexual maturity between one-and-a-half to three years of age. They typically average one litter
every two to three years throughout their reproductive lives, though the period can be as short as one year.
Females are in estrus for about 8 days of a 23-day cycle; the gestation period is approximately 91 days.
Females are sometimes reported as monogamous, but this is uncertain and polygyny may be more common. Copulation
is brief but frequent. Chronic stress can result in low reproductive rates when in captivity as well as in the
Only females are involved in parenting. Female cougars are fiercely protective of their cubs, and have been seen
to successfully fight off animals as large as Grizzly bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and
six cubs; typically two. Caves and other alcoves that offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind,
cubs are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As
they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months
beginning to hunt small prey on their own. Kitten survival rates are just over one per litter. When cougars are
born, they have spots, but they lose them as they grow, and by the age of 2 1/2 years, they will be completely
Young adults leave their mother to attempt to establish their own territory at around two years of age and
sometimes earlier; males tend to leave sooner. One study has shown high mortality amongst cougars that travel
farthest from the maternal range, often due to conflicts with other cougars (intraspecific competition).
Research in New Mexico has shown that "males dispersed significantly farther than females, were more likely to
traverse large expanses of non-cougar habitat, and were probably most responsible for nuclear gene flow between habitat patches."
Life expectancy in the wild is reported at eight to 13 years, and probably averages eight to 10; a female of at
least 18 years was reported killed by hunters on Vancouver Island. Cougars may live as long as 20 years in
captivity. One male North American cougar (P. c. couguar), named Scratch, was two months short of his 30th
birthday when he died in 2007. Causes of death in the wild include disability and disease, competition with
other cougars, starvation, accidents, and, where allowed, human hunting. Feline immunodeficiency virus, an
endemic HIV-like virus in cats, is well-adapted to the cougar.
Social structure and home range
Like almost all cats, the cougar is a solitary animal. Only mothers and kittens live in groups, with adults
meeting only to mate. It is secretive and crepuscular, being most active around dawn and dusk.
Estimates of territory sizes vary greatly. Canadian Geographic reports large male territories of 150 to 1000 km2
(58 to 386 sq mi) with female ranges half the size. Other research suggests a much smaller lower limit of 25
km2 (10 sq mi), but an even greater upper limit of 1300 km2 (500 sq mi) for males. In the United States, very
large ranges have been reported in Texas and the Black Hills of the northern Great Plains, in excess of 775 km2
(300 sq mi). Male ranges may include or overlap with those of females but, at least where studied, not with
those of other males, which serves to reduce conflict between cougars. Ranges of females may overlap slightly
with each other. Scrape marks, urine, and feces are used to mark territory and attract mates. Males may scrape
together a small pile of leaves and grasses and then urinate on it as a way of marking territory.
Home range sizes and overall cougar abundance depend on terrain, vegetation, and prey abundance. One female
adjacent to the San Andres Mountains, for instance, was found with a large range of 215 km2 (83 sq mi),
necessitated by poor prey abundance. Research has shown cougar abundances from 0.5 animals to as much as 7
(in one study in South America) per 100 km2 (38 sq mi).
Because males disperse farther than females and compete more directly for mates and territory, they are most
likely to be involved in conflict. Where a subadult fails to leave his maternal range, for example, he may be
killed by his father. When males encounter each other, they hiss, spit, and may engage in violent conflict if
neither backs down. Hunting or relocation of the cougar may increase aggressive encounters by disrupting
territories and bringing young, transient animals into conflict with established individuals.
Distribution and habitat
The cougar has the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas. Its range spans 110 degrees of
latitude, from northern Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes. Its wide distribution stems from its adaptability
to virtually every habitat type: it is found in all forest types, as well as in lowland and mountainous deserts.
The cougar prefers regions with dense underbrush, but can live with little vegetation in open areas. Its
preferred habitats include precipitous canyons, escarpments, rim rocks, and dense brush.
The cougar was extirpated across much of its eastern North American range (with the exception of Florida) in
the two centuries after European colonization, and faced grave threats in the remainder of its territory.
Currently, it ranges across most western American states, the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and
British Columbia, and the Canadian territory of Yukon. There have been widely debated reports of possible
recolonization of eastern North America. DNA evidence has suggested its presence in eastern North America, while
a consolidated map of cougar sightings shows numerous reports, from the mid-western Great Plains through to
eastern Canada. The Quebec wildlife services (known locally as MRNF) also considers cougar to be present in
the province as a threatened species after multiple DNA tests confirmed cougar hair in lynx mating sites. The
only unequivocally known eastern population is the Florida panther, which is critically endangered. There have
been unconfirmed sightings in Elliotsville Plantation, Maine (north of Monson); and in New Hampshire, there
have been unconfirmed sightings as early as 1997. In 2009, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources
confirmed a cougar sighting in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Typically, extreme-range sightings of cougars
involve young males, which can travel great distances to establish ranges away from established males; all four
confirmed cougar kills in Iowa since 2000 involved males.
On April 14, 2008, police shot and killed a cougar on the north side of Chicago, Illinois. DNA tests were
consistent with cougars from the Black Hills of South Dakota. Less than a year later, on March 5, 2009, a
cougar was photographed and unsuccessfully tranquilized by state wildlife biologists in a tree near Spooner,
Wisconsin, in the northwestern part of the state.
Other eastern sightings since 2010 have occurred in locations such as Greene County, Indiana, Greenwich and
Milford, Connecticut, Morgan County Pike County, and Whiteside County, Illinois, and Bourbon County, Kentucky.
South of the Rio Grande, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the cat in every
Central and South American country. While specific state and provincial statistics are often available in North
America, much less is known about the cat in its southern range.
The cougar's total breeding population is estimated at less than 50,000 by the IUCN, with a declining trend. US
state-level statistics are often more optimistic, suggesting cougar populations have rebounded. In Oregon, a
healthy population of 5,000 was reported in 2006, exceeding a target of 3,000. California has actively sought to
protect the cat and a similar number of cougars has been suggested, between 4,000 and 6,000.
In 2012 research in Río Los Cipreses National Reserve, Chile, based in 18 motion-sensitive cameras counted a
population of two males and two females, one of them with at least two cubs, in an area of 600 km2, that is 0.63
cougars every 100 km2.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) currently lists the cougar as a "least concern" species. The cougar is
regulated under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES), rendering illegal international trade in specimens or parts.
In the United States east of the Mississippi River, the only unequivocally known cougar population is the
Florida panther. Until 2011, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized both an Eastern
cougar (claimed to be a subspecies by some, denied by others) and the Florida panther, affording protection
under the Endangered Species Act. Certain taxonomic authorities have collapsed both designations into the North
American cougar, with Eastern or Florida subspecies not recognized, while a subspecies designation remains
recognized by some conservation scientists. In 2003 the documented count for the Florida sub-population was 87
individuals. In March 2011, the USFWS declared the Eastern cougar extinct. With the taxonomic uncertainty about
its existence as a subspecies as well as the possibility of eastward migration of cougars from the western
range, the subject remains open.
This uncertainty has been recognized by Canadian authorities. The Canadian federal agency called Committee on
the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada rates its current data as "insufficient" to draw conclusions
regarding the eastern cougar's survival, and says on its Web site "Despite many sightings in the past two
decades from eastern Canada, there are insufficient data to evaluate the taxonomy or assign a status to this
cougar." Notwithstanding numerous reported sightings in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, it has
been said that the evidence is inconclusive: ". . . there may not be a distinct 'eastern' subspecies, and
some sightings may be of escaped pets."
The cougar is also protected across much of the rest of its range. As of 1996, cougar hunting was prohibited in
Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama,
Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Uruguay. The cat had no reported legal protection in Ecuador, El Salvador,
and Guyana. Regulated cougar hunting is still common in the United States and Canada, although they are
protected from all hunting in the Yukon; it is permitted in every U.S. state from the Rocky Mountains to the
Pacific Ocean, with the exception of California. Texas is the only state in the United States with a viable
population of cougars that does not protect that population in some way. In Texas, cougars are listed as
nuisance wildlife and any person holding a hunting or a trapping permit can kill a cougar regardless of the
season, number killed, sex or age of the animal. Killed animals are not required to be reported to Texas Parks
and Wildlife Department. Conservation work in Texas is the effort of a non-profit organization, Balanced
Ecology Inc. (BEI), as part of their Texas Mountain Lion Conservation Project. Cougars are generally hunted
with packs of dogs, until the animal is 'treed'. When the hunter arrives on the scene, he shoots the cat from
the tree at close range. The cougar cannot be legally killed without a permit in California except under very
specific circumstances, such as when a cougar is in act of pursuing livestock or domestic animals, or is declared
a threat to public safety. Permits are issued when owners can prove property damage on their livestock or pets.
For example, multiple dogs have been attacked and killed, sometimes while with the owner. Many attribute this to
the protection cougars have from being hunted and are now becoming desensitized to humans; most are removed
from the population after the attacks have already occurred. Statistics from the Department of Fish and Game
indicate that cougar killings in California have been on the rise since the 1970s with an average of over 112
cats killed per year from 2000 to 2006 compared to six per year in the 1970s. They also state on their website
that there is a healthy number of cougars in California. The Bay Area Puma Project aims to obtain information
on cougar populations in the San Francisco Bay area and the animals' interactions with habitat, prey, humans,
and residential communities.
Conservation threats to the species include persecution as a pest animal, environmental degradation and habitat
fragmentation, and depletion of their prey base. Wildlife corridors and sufficient range areas are critical
to the sustainability of cougar populations. Research simulations have shown that the animal faces a low
extinction risk in areas of 2200 km2 (850 sq mi) or more. As few as one to four new animals entering a
population per decade markedly increases persistence, foregrounding the importance of habitat corridors.
On March 2, 2011, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar)