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The cougar is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the animal with the most common names of any animal, with more than 40 different names in the English language alone (including puma, mountain lion, and panther). Virtually every specific geographic region in which cougars are found has its own name for this wild cat, but cougar, panther and mountain lion are the most common.
Compared to other wild cats, the cougar has a relatively small head, shortened face, small and rounded ears, elongated body, and long neck and tail. It is about eight to nine feet long from nose to tip of tail, and weighs 125-160 pounds, with females being smaller than males. It can be distinguished from other wild cats by its black-bracketed nose and dark-tipped tail. Cougars have powerful legs that are well suited for rapid acceleration and pouncing, and teeth designed for seizing, slashing and tearing.
Cougars are capable of making vertical leaps of up to 18 feet, and horizontal jumps of up to 20 feet; they can also make a 50-foot drop onto prey or the ground without injury. They cannot roar, but do produce a high-pitched scream that can be quite unsettling at night.
Distribution and Habitat
The cougar has acquired so many common names because it has the greatest geographic distribution of all wild cats, found from the northern Yukon to the southern Andes. It lives in a wide variety of habitats, including populated areas, but is most common where there is plenty of ambush cover.
A cougar hunts by stalking and ambushing prey. It will either pounce from an elevated vantage point or run down its prey with a burst of speed, and typically tries to attack the back and crush the neck of its prey with its teeth. It will prey on any animal it can catch, including deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep, as well as rodents, reptiles, birds, and even insects. Large kills may be stashed so the cougar can return to feed over several days, while smaller prey is usually consumed on the spot. An adult male cougar can eat eight or more pounds of meat in one sitting.
Cougars typically mate in late fall or early winter, but there is no specific mating season.
The female gives birth to up to six kittens after a three-month gesttion period, usually in a den in a dense thicket or under a fallen log. Kittens are born blind and fairly helpless. The mother begins introducing them to meat at about 1-1/2 months, weans them at about three months, and begins teaching them to hunt at about six months; fathers take no part in the rearing of young. The young are usually able to live independently at about 1-1/2 years. Sexual maturity is reached at about three years, and cougars can live up to ten years in the wild.
Other Habits and Behaviors
Cougars are solitary and nocturnal. They build no dens, taking shelter in crevices, caves, dense bush, or any other convenient location that provides some cover. Each individual cougar will have a home territory that may cover several dozen square miles, with the availability of prey being the determining factor (the greater the availability the smaller the territory needs to be). Territories are usually scent marked and a cougar will confront trespassers, but avoidance of strange territories appears to come naturally to cougars and trespass conflicts are quite rare.
Dr. Maurice Burton and Robert Burton Funk & Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopedia New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1974
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This page was last updated on October 19, 2018.