Puma — The cougar (Puma concolor), also puma, mountain lion, or panther, is a mammal of the Felidae family, native to the Americas. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in every major New World habitat type. It is the second heaviest cat in the New World, after the jaguar, and the fourth heaviest in the world, after the tiger, lion, and jaguar, although it is most closely related to smaller felines.
A capable stalk-and-ambush predator, the cougar pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources include ungulates such as deer and bighorn sheep, as well as domestic cattle, horses, and sheep, particularly in the northern part of its range, but it hunts species as small as insects and rodents. It prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but it can live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and persists at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey. While it is a large predator, it is not always the dominant species in its range, as when it competes for prey with animals such as the gray wolf, black bear, and the grizzly bear. It is a reclusive cat and usually avoids people. Attacks on humans remain rare, despite a recent increase in frequency.
Due to persecution following the European colonization of the Americas, and continuing human development of cougar habitat, populations have dropped in many parts of its historical range. In particular, the cougar was extirpated in eastern North America, except an isolated sub-population in Florida; the animal may be recolonizing parts of its former eastern territory. With its vast range, the cougar has dozens of names and various references in the mythology of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and in contemporary culture.
Cougars are slender and agile cats. Adults stand about 60 to 80 cm (2.0 to 2.7 ft) tall at the shoulders. The length of adult males is around 2.4 m (8 ft) long nose to tail, with overall ranges between 1.5 and 2.75 meters (5 and 9 ft) nose to tail suggested for the species in general. Males have an average weight of about 53 to 72 kilograms (115 to 160 pounds). In rare cases, some may reach over 120 kg (260 lb). Female average weight is between 34 and 48 kg (75 and 105 lb). Cougar size is smallest close to the equator, and larger towards the poles.
Cougars have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. This physique allows it great leaping and short-sprint ability. An exceptional vertical leap of 5.4 m (18 ft) is reported for the cougar. Horizontal jumping capability is suggested anywhere from 6 to 12 m (20 to 40 ft). The cougar can run as fast as 55 km/h (35 mph), but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, which allows it to evade canine competitors. Although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.
The cougar has the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas. Its range spans 110 degrees of latitude, from northern Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes. It is one of only three cat species, along with the bobcat and Canadian lynx, endemic to Canada. Its wide distribution stems from its adaptability to virtually every habitat type: it is found in all forest types as well as in lowland and mountainous deserts. Studies show that the Cougar prefers regions with dense underbrush, but can live with little vegetation in open areas. Its preferred habitats include precipitous canyons, escarpments, rim rocks, and dense brush.