Puma (genus)

Last updated

Puma [1]
Temporal range: PlioceneHolocene, 3–0  Ma
CMM MountainLion.jpg
Cougar (Puma concolor)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Puma
Jardine, 1834
Type species
Felis concolor
Linnaeus, 1771
Cougar range map 2010.png
Puma range.

Puma is a genus in the family Felidae whose only extant species is the cougar (also known as the puma, mountain lion, and panther, [2] among other names), and may also include several poorly known Old World fossil representatives (for example, Puma pardoides , or Owen's panther, a large, cougar-like cat of Eurasia's Pliocene). [3] [4] In addition to these potential Old World fossils, a few New World fossil representatives are possible, such as Puma pumoides [5] and the two species of the so-called "American cheetah", currently classified under the genus Miracinonyx. [6]



Pumas are large, secretive cats. They are also commonly known as cougars and mountain lions, and are able to reach larger sizes than some other "big" cat individuals. Despite their large size, they are more closely related to smaller feline species than to lions or leopards. The seven subspecies of pumas all have similar characteristics but tend to vary in color and size. Pumas are the most adaptable felines in the Americas and are found in a variety of different habitats, unlike other cat species. [7]

Extant species

ImageScientific nameCommon nameDistribution
8th Place - Mountain Lion (7487178290).jpg Puma concolor Cougar Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes in Argentina and Chile

Distribution and habitat

Members of the genus Puma are primarily found in the mountains of North and South America, where a majority of individuals can be found in rocky crags and pastures lower than the slopes grazing herbivores inhabit. Though they choose to inhabit those areas, they are highly adaptive and can be found in a large variety of habitats, including forests, tropical jungle, grasslands, and even arid desert regions. Unfortunately, with the expansion of human settlements and land clearance, the cats are being pushed into smaller, more hostile areas. However, their high adaptability will likely allow them to avoid disappearing from the wild forever. [7]

Anatomy and appearance

Subspecies of the genus Puma include cats that are the fourth-largest in the cat family. Adult males can reach around 7.9 feet (2.4 m) from nose to tip of tail, and a body weight typically between 115 to 220 pounds (52 to 100 kg). Females can reach around 6.7 feet (2.0 m) from nose to tail, and a body weight between 64 to 141 pounds (29 to 64 kg). They also have tails ranging from 25 to 37 inches (0.6 to 0.9 m) long. The heads of these cats are round, with erect ears. They have powerful forequarters, necks, and jaws which help grasp and hold prey. They have four retractable claws on their fore paws, and also their hind paws.

The majority of pumas are found in more mountainous regions, so they have a thick fur coat to help retain body heat during freezing winters. Depending on subspecies and the location of their habitat, the puma's fur varies in color from brown-yellow to grey-red. Individuals that live in colder climates have coats that are more grey than individuals living in warmer climates with a more red color to their coat. Pumas are incredibly strong and fast predators with long bodies and powerful short legs. The hindlimbs are larger and stronger than the forelimbs, enabling them to be great leapers. They are able to leap as high as 18 feet (5 m) into the air and as far as 40 to 45 feet (12 to 14 m) horizontally. They can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km/h), as they are adapted to perform powerful sprints in order to catch their prey. [7]

Behavior and lifestyle

Members of the genus live solitarily, with the exception of the time cubs spend with their mothers. Individuals cover a large home range searching for food, covering a distance around 80 mi2 during the summers and 40 mi2 during the winters. They are able to hunt at night just as effectively as they can during the day. Members of the genus are also known to make a variety of different sounds, particularly used when warning another individual away from their territory or during the mating season when looking for a mate. [7]

A study released in 2017 suggests that pumas have a secret social life only recently captured on film. They were seen sharing their food kills with other nearby pumas. They share many social patterns with more gregarious species such as chimpanzees. [8]


Members of this genus are large and powerful carnivores. The majority of their diet includes small animals such as rodents, birds, fish, and rabbits. Larger individuals are able to catch larger prey such as bighorn sheep, deer, guanaco, mountain goats, raccoons, and coati. They occasionally take livestock in areas with high populations of them. [7]

Reproduction and life cycles

Breeding season normally occurs between December and March, with a three-month (91 days) gestation period resulting in a litter size up to six kittens. After mating, male and female part ways; the male continues on to mate with other females for the duration of the mating season, while the female cares for the kittens on her own. Like most other felines, kittens are born blind and remain completely helpless for about 2 weeks until their eyes open. Kittens are born with spots and eventually lose all of them as they reach adulthood. The spots allow the kittens to hide better from predators. Kittens are able to eat solid food when they reach 2–3 months of age, and remain with their mother for about a year. The life expectancy of individuals in the wild averages 12 years, but can reach up to 25 years in captivity. [7]


Although they have been pushed into smaller habitats by human settlement expansion, members of the genus have been designated least-concern species by the IUCN, indicating low risk of becoming extinct in their natural environments in the near future. This is due to their high adaptiveness to changing habitat conditions. In fact, many feel the pumas' ability to adapt to different environments explains their current numbers. [7] However, in many large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, California, pumas' habitats have been fragmented by urban development and massive freeways. These barriers have made it nearly impossible for populations of mountain lions in specific areas of mountain ranges to reach one another to breed and increase genetic diversity. While their numbers still remain at decent[ vague ] levels, the number of kittens that are inbred is rising every year. This poses a threat to these already-reduced communities of mountain lions that are forced to quickly adapt to shrinking habitats and increased run-ins with humans. Many researchers from the National Park Service are using their findings to propose ideas to cities like Los Angeles, which harbors large populations of urban wildlife, to increase conservation efforts in areas on both sides of freeways, and begin the process of building land bridges for wildlife to safely cross freeways. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Felidae Family of mammals

Felidae is a family of mammals in the order Carnivora, colloquially referred to as cats, and constitutes a clade. A member of this family is also called a felid. The term "cat" refers both to felids in general and specifically to the domestic cat.

Jaguar Large cat native to the Americas

The jaguar is a large cat species and the only living member of the genus Panthera native to the Americas. With a body length of up to 1.85 m and a weight of up to 96 kg (212 lb), it is the largest cat species in the Americas and the third largest in the world. Its distinctively marked coat features pale yellow to tan colored fur covered by spots that transition to rosettes on the sides, although a melanistic black coat appears in some individuals. The jaguar's powerful bite allows it to pierce the carapaces of turtles and tortoises, and to employ an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of mammalian prey between the ears to deliver a fatal blow to the brain.

Cougar Large species of the family Felidae native to the Americas

The cougar is a large cat native to the Americas. Its range spans from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes in South America and is the most widespread of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. It is an adaptable, generalist species, occurring in most American habitat types. Due to its wide range, it has many names, including puma, mountain lion, catamount and panther.

<i>Smilodon</i> Extinct genus of saber-toothed cat

Smilodon is a genus of the extinct machairodont subfamily of the felids. It is one of the most famous prehistoric mammals and the best known saber-toothed cat. Although commonly known as the saber-toothed tiger, it was not closely related to the tiger or other modern cats. Smilodon lived in the Americas during the Pleistocene epoch. The genus was named in 1842 based on fossils from Brazil; the generic name means "scalpel" or "two-edged knife" combined with "tooth". Three species are recognized today: S. gracilis, S. fatalis, and S. populator. The two latter species were probably descended from S. gracilis, which itself probably evolved from Megantereon. The hundreds of individuals obtained from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles constitute the largest collection of Smilodon fossils.

Ocelot Small wild cat

The ocelot is a medium-sized spotted wild cat that reaches 40–50 cm (15.7–19.7 in) at the shoulders and weighs between 8 and 15.5 kg. It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Two subspecies are recognized. It is native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and to the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Margarita. It prefers areas close to water sources with dense vegetation cover and high prey availability.

Wildcat Small wild cat

The wildcat is a species complex comprising two small wild cat species: the European wildcat and the African wildcat. The European wildcat inhabits forests in Europe and the Caucasus, while the African wildcat inhabits semi-arid landscapes and steppes in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, into western India and western China. The wildcat species differ in fur pattern, tail, and size: the European wildcat has long fur and a bushy tail with a rounded tip; the smaller African wildcat is more faintly striped, has short sandy-gray fur and a tapering tail; the Asiatic wildcat is spotted.

Sand cat Small wild cat species (Felis margarita)

The sand cat, also known as the sand dune cat, is a small wild cat that inhabits sandy and stony deserts far from water sources. With its sandy to light grey fur, it is well camouflaged in a desert environment. Its head-and-body length ranges from 39–52 cm (15–20 in) with a 23–31 cm (9.1–12.2 in) long tail. Its 5–7 cm (2.0–2.8 in) short ears are set low on the sides of the head, aiding detection of prey moving underground. The long hair covering the soles of its paws insulates its pads against the extremely hot and cold temperatures in deserts.

Black-footed cat Small wild cat native to Southern Africa

The black-footed cat, also called the small-spotted cat, is the smallest wild cat in Africa, having a head-and-body length of 35–52 cm (14–20 in). Despite its name, only the soles of its feet are black or dark brown. With its bold small spots and stripes on the tawny fur, it is well camouflaged, especially on moonlit nights. It bears black streaks running from the corners of the eyes along the cheeks, and its banded tail has a black tip.

Jaguarundi Small wild cat native to the Americas

The jaguarundi is a wild cat native to the Americas. Its range extends from central Argentina in the south to northern Mexico, through Central and South America east of the Andes. The jaguarundi is a medium-sized cat of slender build. Its coloration is uniform with two color morphs, gray and red. It has an elongated body, with relatively short legs, a small, narrow head, small, round ears, a short snout, and a long tail, resembling mustelids in these respects. It is about twice as large as a domestic cat, reaching nearly 360 mm (14 in) at the shoulder, and weighs 3.5–7 kg (7.7–15.4 lb).

<i>Feline immunodeficiency virus</i> Species of virus

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a Lentivirus that affects cats worldwide, with 2.5% to 4.4% of felines being infected.

Felid hybrid Hybrid carnivore

A felid hybrid is any of a number of hybrids between various species of the cat family, Felidae. This article deals with hybrids between the species of the subfamily Felinae.

Florida panther Subspecies of cougar endemic to Florida

The Florida panther is a North American cougar population in South Florida. It lives in pinelands, tropical hardwood hammocks, and mixed freshwater swamp forests. It is known under a number of common names including Costa Rican puma, Florida cougar, and Florida puma.

North American cougar Subspecies of carnivore

The North American cougar is a cougar subspecies in North America. It was once common in eastern North America, and is still prevalent in the western half of the continent. This subspecies includes populations in western Canada, the western United States, Florida, Mexico and Central America, and possibly South America northwest of the Andes Mountains. It is the biggest cat in North America, with North American jaguars being fairly small. It thus includes the extirpated Eastern cougar and extant Florida panther populations.

<i>Panthera gombaszoegensis</i> Extinct European jaguar species

Panthera gombaszoegensis, also known as the European jaguar, is a Panthera species that lived from about 2.0 to 0.35 million years ago in Europe. The first fossils were excavated in 1938 in Gombasek, Slovakia.

Eastern cougar Extinct population of cougar in eastern part of North America

The eastern cougar or eastern puma is a subspecies designation proposed in 1946 for cougar populations in eastern North America. The subspecies as described in 1946 was declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011. However, the 1946 taxonomy is now in question. The Canadian Wildlife Service has taken no position on the taxonomy. Cougars are currently common in western North America and may be expanding their range. Individuals are occasionally seen as vagrants in eastern North America.

Gulf Coast jaguarundi Subspecies of carnivore

The Gulf Coast jaguarundi is an endangered population of the jaguarundi once ranging from southern Texas in the United States to eastern Mexico. The cat prefers dense shrubland and woodland, yet has been hampered by habitat loss. In 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature no longer recognised Gulf Coast jaguarundi or other populations as subspecies.

<i>Puma pardoides</i> Extinct species of carnivore

Puma pardoides, sometimes called the Eurasian puma or Owen's panther, is an extinct prehistoric cat. It was long regarded as a primitive species of leopard. Recent work however has shown that Panthera pardoides and Panthera schaubi are actually the same species, and are probably not pantherine at all, but a member of Felinae related to the cougar, making them more properly classified as Puma pardoides.

Felidae Conservation Fund (FCF) is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving wild cats and their habitats. The organization supports and promotes international wild cat research and conservation by collaborating on field research projects, partnering with other environmental organizations, and developing community outreach and education programs.

Mammals of Olympic National Park

There are at least 9 large terrestrial mammal, 50 small mammal and 14 marine mammal species known to occur in Olympic National Park.

South American cougar Subspecies of carnivore

The South American cougar, also known as the Andean mountain lion or puma, is a cougar subspecies occurring in northern and western South America, from Colombia and Venezuela to Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.


  1. Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 544–545. ISBN   978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC   62265494.
  2. California wildlife get their own highway crossing http://www.npr.org/transcripts/1095750186
  3. Hemmer, H. (1965). Studien an " Panthera " schaubi Viret aus dem Villafranchien von Saint-Vallier (Drôme). Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 122, 324–336.
  4. Hemmer, H., Kahlike, R.-D. & Vekua, A. K. (2004). The Old World puma Puma pardoides (Owen, 1846) (Carnivora: Felidae) in the Lower Villafranchian (Upper Pliocene) of Kvabebi (East Georgia, Transcaucasia) and its evolutionary and biogeographical significance. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 233, 197–233.
  5. Chimento, Nicolas Roberto, Maria Rosa Derguy, and Helmut Hemmer. "Puma (Herpailurus) pumoides (Castellanos, 1958)(Mammalia, Felidae) del Plioceno de Argentina." Serie Correlación Geológica 30.2 (2015).
  6. Barnett, Ross, et al. "Evolution of the extinct Sabretooths and the American cheetah-like cat." Current Biology 15.15 (2005): R589-R590.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Puma (Felis concolor)" . Retrieved 16 December 2015.
  8. Palmieri, Tim (2017-10-12). "The Secret Social Live of a Solitary Puma". Scientific American. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  9. Ernest, Holly B.; Wayne, Robert K.; Dalbeck, Lisa; Sikich, Jeffrey A.; Pollinger, John P.; Serieys, Laurel E. K.; Riley, Seth P. D. (2014-09-08). "Individual Behaviors Dominate the Dynamics of an Urban Mountain Lion Population Isolated by Roads". Current Biology. 24 (17): 1989–1994. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.07.029 . ISSN   0960-9822. PMID   25131676.