The cougar also known as the mountain lion, puma, panther, painter, mountain cat, or catamount, is a large cat of the family Fieldale 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 New World, after the jaguar. Secretive and largely solitary by nature, the cougar is properly considered both nocturnal and crepuscular, although sightings during daylight hours do occur. The cougar is more closely related to smaller felines, including the domestic cat (subfamily Felinae), than to any subspecies of lion (subfamily Pantherinae). 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, gray wolf, American black bear, and grizzly bear. It is reclusive and mostly 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. Today, reports of eastern (Puma concolor cougar) still surface, but the last verified one was killed in 2011.
Cougars are slender and agile members of the cat family. They are the fourth-largest cat; adults stand about 60 to 90 cm (24 to 35 in) tall at the shoulders. Adult males are around 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long nose-to-tail and females average 2.05 m (6.7 ft), with overall ranges between 1.5 to 2.75 m (4.9 to 9.0 ft) nose to tail suggested for the species in general. Of this length, 63 to 95 cm (25 to 37 in) is comprised by the tail. Males typically weigh 53 to 100 kg (115 to 220 lb), averaging 62 kg (137 lb). Females typically weigh between 29 and 64 kg (64 and 141 lb), averaging 42 kg (93 lb). Cougar size is smallest close to the equator, and larger towards the poles. The largest recorded cougar, shot in Arizona, weighed 125.5 kg (276 lb) after its intestines were removed, indicating in life it could have weighed nearly 136.2 kg (300 lb). Several male cougars in British Columbia weighed between 86.4 and 95.5 kg (190 to 210 lb).
Hunting and diet
A successful generalist predator, the cougar will eat any animal it can catch, from insects to large ungulates (over 500 kg). Like all cats, it is an obligate carnivore, meaning it needs to feed exclusively on meat to survive. The mean weight of vertebrate prey (MWVP) was positively correlated (r=0.875) with puma body weight and inversely correlated (r=–0.836) with food niche breadth all across the Americas. In general, MWVP was lower in areas closer to the Equator. Its most important prey species are various deer species, particularly in North America; deer, white-tailed deer, and even bull elk are taken. Other species such as bighorn sheep, wild horses of Arizona, domestic horses, and domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep are also primary food bases in many areas. A survey of North America research found 68% of prey items were ungulates, especially deer.
Social structure and home range
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. Estimates of territory sizes vary greatly. Canadian Geographic reports large male territories of 150 to 1000 km2 (58 to 386 sq mi) with female ranges half the size. Other research suggests a much smaller lower limit of 25 km2 (10 sq mi), but an even greater upper limit of 1300 km2 (500 sq mi) for males. In the United States, very large ranges have been reported in Texas and the Black of the northern Great Plains, in excess of 775 km2 (300 sq mi). Male ranges may include or overlap with those of females but, at least where studied, not with those of other males, which serves to reduce conflict between cougars. Ranges of females may overlap slightly with each other. Scrape marks, urine, and feces are used to mark territory and attract mates. Males may scrape together a small pile of leaves and grasses and then urinate on it as a way of marking territory.