To Our Ojai Community:

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we recover from the damage from the Thomas Fire on our trails. In the coming months trails will likely open and close depending on rain and changing trail conditions. Click here for current information and trail notifications »

Cougar

Puma concolor

Cougar

Physical Characteristics

Cougars are slender and agile members of the cat family. They are the 4th largest cat; adults stand about 24 to 35 in (60 to 90 cm) tall at the shoulders. Adult males are around 7.9 ft (2.4 m) long nose to tail and females average 6.7 ft (2.05 m), with overall ranges between 4.0 to 9.0 ft (1.5 to 2.75 m) nose to tail suggested for the species in general. Of this length, 25 to 37 in (63 to 95 cm) is comprised by the tail. Males typically weigh 115 to 220 lb (53 to 100 kg), averaging 137 lb (62 kg). Females typically weigh between 64 and 141 lb (29 and 64 kg), averaging 93 lb (42 kg).

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 5 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.

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 these screams are often misinterpreted to be calls of other animals.

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.

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 is able to leap as high as 18 ft (5.5 m) in one bound, and as far as 40 to 45 ft horizontally.The cougar’s top running speed ranges between 40 to 50 mph (64 to 80 km/h), 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.

Habitat

The cougar can adapt 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.

Diet

A successful generalist predator, the cougar will eat any animal it can catch, from insects to large ungulates (“hoofed animal”). Like all cats, it is an obligate carnivore, meaning it needs to feed exclusively on meat to survive. In this area cougars eat mule deer, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels and mice.

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 at 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 at 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. It is generally reported that the cougar is not a scavenger, and will rarely consume prey it has not killed; but deer carcasses left exposed for study were scavenged by cougars in California, suggesting more opportunistic behavior.

Behavior

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.

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 83 sq mi (215 km), 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 38 sq mi (100 km).

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.

cougar-track

Breeding

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 in addition to in the field.

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 American black bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six cubs; typically two or three. 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 completely be gone.

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.

Life expectancy in the wild is reported at 8 to 13 years, and probably averages 8 to 10.

Predators

Aside from humans, no species preys upon mature cougars in the wild, although conflicts with other predators or scavengers occur.

What to do if you Meet a Lion

  • When you walk or hike in mountain lion country; go in groups and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick is a good idea; it can be used to ward off a lion. Make sure children remain close to you and in your sight at all times.
  • Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most lions avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly.
  • Stop. Back away slowly only if you can do so safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
  • Do All You Can To Appear Larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.
  • If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.
  • Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, or jackets, and their bare-hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up!

References

Cougar, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

www.bigsurcalifornia.org/cougar.html

Top