Cougar

17 Interesting Facts About Cougars

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Introduction

Cougars, also known as mountain lions or pumas, are one of the most intriguing wild cats in North America. As powerful predators that live mostly solitary and elusive lives, cougars capture our imagination even as they remain mysterious.

In this article, we’ll explore 17 fascinating facts about cougars to help us better understand these remarkable big cats of the wilderness. From their exceptional physical abilities to their role as apex predators, cougars have many surprises in store. Read on to learn more!

Interesting Facts About Cougars

Puma (cougar)
Puma (cougar) by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

1. Cougars Have the Greatest Range of Any Wild Terrestrial Mammal in the Western Hemisphere

Cougars have an incredibly vast range that spans 110 degrees of latitude, from northern British Columbia in western Canada to the southern Andes mountain range. Their range covers about 15 million square kilometers.

2. They Are Known by More Names Than Almost Any Other Mammal

Cougars have over 40 names in English alone, including puma, mountain lion, panther, painter, and catamount. Some names are based on local dialects like the South American name “suçuarana”. Their scientific name is Puma concolor.

3. Cougars Are Excellent Jumpers

Cougars are capable jumpers mostly due to their strong and muscular hind legs. They can jump as high as 18 feet (5.5 m) vertically into a tree and as far as 40 to 45 feet (12 to 14 m) horizontally.

Despite the considerable size difference, cougars share a common ancestor with domestic cats. In fact, cougars are the largest animal of the family Felidae, which includes all cats great and small. Genetic analysis shows cougars diverged from small wild cats around 6.6 million years ago.

5. Adult Males Weigh as Much as a Small Piano

A male cougar is known as a tom. Adult toms can weigh between 115 to 220 pounds (52 to 100 kg). That’s about as much as a full-size piano! Despite their considerable bulk, most of a cougar’s body is muscle, allowing them to be quick and agile.

6. They Are Effective Swimmers

In addition to being great jumpers, cougars are also capable swimmers. They have been spotted easily crossing rivers and lakes over 660 feet (200 m) across. Their adaptability helps them thrive across diverse habitats with varied terrain.

7. Cougars Have the Largest Range of Any Wild Terrestrial Mammal in the Western Hemisphere

Cougars have an incredibly vast range that spans 110 degrees of latitude, from northern British Columbia in western Canada to the southern Andes mountain range. Their range covers about 15 million square kilometers.

8. They Have Exceptional Night Vision

Cougars have excellent vision thanks to a reflective layer behind their eyes called the tapetum lucidum. This special tissue helps them see up to 8 times better than humans in low light conditions. It’s why cougars have those eerie glowing eyes at night!

9. Their Hind Legs are Longer than Their Front Legs

Cougars have a unique skeletal structure thanks to their disproportionately long hind legs compared to the front. This adaptation helps propel their powerful leaps and bursts of running speed.

10. Cougars Are True Apex Predators

As adults, cougars have no natural predators in the wild besides humans. They are at the top of the food chain and help regulate the populations of other species like deer, elk and small mammals. Removing cougars from an ecosystem can cause overgrazing and trophic cascades.

11. They Are Mostly Solitary and Territorial

Adult cougars are solitary and avoid other cougars except for mating. Females may briefly tolerate their offspring before forcing them to leave to establish their own home range at about 2 years old. Males have large home territories up to 260 square miles (673 square km) that overlap smaller female territories.

12. Cougar Cubs Have Spots and Rings on Their Tails

Baby cougars, called cubs or kittens, are born with blackish-brown spots and rings on their tails. The spots fade as they mature and disappear by the time they are 5 months old. But the rings on tail tips remain throughout their lifespan.

13. They Are Carnivores That Occasionally Snack on Fruits and Grass

Like all cats, cougars are obligate carnivores that need meat to survive. Their diet consists mainly of large mammals like deer and elk. However, cougars may also snack on small amounts of berries, grass, and other vegetation, likely as a purgative or to induce vomiting to cleanse their stomachs.

14. Cougars Can Purr, Chirp, Scream and Whistle

Cougars have an impressive vocal range for big cats. They can purr, scream, whistle, and make distress cries that sound like a human baby or a barking dog. Their chilling scream is often mistaken for a human female shouting for help at night!

15. They Can Reach Speeds of 50 MPH While Hunting

At top speed, a cougar can charge up to 50 mph (80 kph) over short bursts of 40 or 50 feet. Their incredible acceleration helps them swiftly pursue and ambush prey like deer, their favorite food source.

16. Cougars Have a Life Span of 8 to 13 Years in the Wild

In their natural habitat, most cougars survive between 8 to 13 years if they reach adulthood. Males generally have shorter lifespans than females. Starvation, accidents, and conflicts with humans are common causes of death once they pass their prime.

17. Current Populations Are Rebounding From Near Extinction

Unregulated hunting, trapping, and habitat loss caused cougar populations to plummet by the early 1900s. Their numbers dropped as low as several thousand across North America. Conservation efforts have helped populations rebound significantly in recent decades.

Conclusion

Cougars are truly magnificent creatures that play a vital role as apex predators. Their exceptional physical abilities and adaptations allow them to thrive across diverse habitats. While cougars can appear common in some areas, most populations still need active conservation to preserve genetic diversity. Their survival reminds us to treasure the biodiversity of life on our shared planet.


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