Pumas are the most widespread of the American cats and have the largest distribution of any mammal in the western hemisphere. These large slender cats are found across a diverse range of habitats, from arid desert to cold coniferous forest, and although terrestrial, can swim and climb trees when they need to. Pumas are powerful predators and hunt by stalking and ambushing their prey. However, if ill or young, they themselves can become lunch for hungry wolves or bears. They hold the record for the mammal with the most common names - over 40 in English alone.
Did you know?
The puma has more common names than any other mammal.
Scientific name: Puma concolor
Pumas are able to stalk their prey by moving silently at night.
Pumas are able to stalk their prey by moving silently at night. Pumas are at their most dangerous when they have not eaten for several days so expert Bryson Voirin needs to fight the instinct to run. If he does, the puma will see him as prey and humans do not stand much of a chance against these incredible cats.
A juvenile puma hones his hunting skills at night by "playing".
A juvenile puma hones his hunting skills at night by "playing", much like domestic cats do. Camerawoman Justine Evans reveals the puma's behaviour at night by using specialist night-time camera equipment.
Pumas lock onto their prey of guanacos at night from 30m away.
Pumas lock onto their prey of guanacos at night from 30m away. However, guanacos have acute hearing to defend themselves. Both animals rely on their senses for survival.
The desert can be a difficult place to find enough to drink.
Mountain lions are successful hunters, and they can eat almost anything from mountain sheep to plants. The main problem in the desert is finding enough to drink. Away from rivers, water holes are rarely refilled as storms happen infrequently.
The mountain lion patrols the canyonlands.
The mountain lion is the largest predator that lives in the canyonlands of America. The desert climate makes life tough for these cats, food and water is hard to come by.
Species range provided by WWF's Wildfinder.
The following habitats are found across the Puma distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.
Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.
Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
Population trend: Decreasing
Year assessed: 2008
Classified by: IUCN 3.1
The cougar (Puma concolor), also known as the puma, mountain lion, panther, or catamount, is a large cat of the family Felidae 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 Western Hemisphere, after the jaguar. Solitary by nature and nocturnal, the cougar is most closely related to smaller felines and is nearer genetically to the domestic cat than true lions.
An excellent stalk-and-ambush predator, the cougar pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources include ungulates such as deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, as well as domestic cattle, horses and sheep, particularly in the northern part of its range. It will also hunt 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, grey wolf, American black bear, and grizzly bear. It is reclusive and usually avoids people. Fatal attacks on humans are rare, but have been trending upward in recent years as more people enter their territory.
Excessive 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 subpopulation in Florida. However, in recent decades, breeding populations have moved east into the far western parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Transient males have been verified in Minnesota,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 Connecticut.
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