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   "So, what's so special about this big cat?"  

Interesting Facts

The name “mountain lion” was derived from areas near the Rocky Mountains while the names “panther” and “catamount” were derived east of the Mississippi River. The name cougar is derived from a misspelling of the word "couguar" in eighteenth century France.  Previous to extensive research using molecular data, cougars used to be categorized in 32 different subspecies due to their widespread range in habit.  Today there are six subspecies of cougars (Puma concolor concolor, Puma concolor couguar, Puma concolor costaricensis, Puma concolor cabrerae, Puma concolor capriconensis, and Puma concolor puma). The parent species, Puma concolor, is considered a ‘Near Threatened’ species and the subspecies Puma concolor couguar is considered an ‘Endangered’ species in the state of Florida. Photo courtesy of Dave Stiles


Photo courtesy of Rolf Hicker

The average weight of a male cougar is anywhere from 145 to 165 pounds while the average weight of a female cougar ranges from 75 to 100 pounds.  However, the largest cougar ever identified was a male cougar that weighed nearly 200 pounds!  The average length (measured with its tail) of a male cougar  is about 11 feet long whereas the average length of a female cougar is around 8 feet long.  Cougars have five toes on their forefeet and four toes on their hind feet which is similar to other felid species.

Below is  a comparison of a cougar track and a dog track.  The front toes of cougar tracks are not straight like dog tracks. The heel of a puma track has three even lobes whereas the heel of a dog track is most often only two-lobed or i
t may have a very small center lobe.  Dog tracks normally show toenail marks while cougar tracks usually do not.

Cougar track vs. Dog track

Above picture used with permission by

Interactions with other species

Photo courtesy of Salvio DSilva
Because cougars are such solitary animals, they rarely intentionally interact with other species.  But the feeling is mutual because other species rarely want to live amongst the cougar due to its predacious behavior. Cougars do not eat the entire body of their prey and leave parts behind- this proves beneficial to fungi, bacteria, and other saprophytes because it leaves these particular organisms a "free" food source.  Wolves prove to be a hefty threat to cougars because they compete for the same food sources and have better olfactory senses for hunting. The biggest threat to cougars is humans.  Humans hunt cougars for game, they hunt them to prevent stock depredation, and they hunt them out of fear.  Humans also hunt deer which are the main source of food for cougars.  Fewer deer means less food for the cougars. Trophy hunting is also one of the main causes of mortality among the Puma species, and this is especially the case when the mother cougar is killed and her cub is orphaned.


Photo courtesy of Daniel VucskoIn general, cougars are afraid of humans and will do anything in their power to avoid them. Cougar attacks mostly occur because of inexperience.  Young cougars are not as particular about their definition of “prey” and they become confused because their prey does not normally stand upright as in the case with humans.  Cougar attacks have increased within the last 20 years most likely due to humans moving further into cougar country.  Nearly everyone that has been attacked by a cougar and has turned to fight back has survived.  It is hard to say if humans and cougars will be able to co-exist in the future but hopefully that is in fact the case. 

Photo courtesy of Tom Volk

This photo was taken of a sign on campus at the University of California- Santa Cruz

Humans have killed somewhere between 100,000 to 250,000 cougars since
Columbus arrived, and if we are not careful enough these numbers could easily rise to much more.  In essence, those who know the cougar fear it the least.  This is why it is so important to educate society about the natural world around us.  If we ignore the rising number of “Endangered” species or “Nearly Endangered” species of plants in animals across the globe, the only thing to fear will be our own extinction.

Click on the links below to learn how you can help save the cougar.

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