The cougar is a large, solitary cat whose range extends from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. In the English language, the cougar is known by over 40 different names. The most common of these names are cougar, mountain lion, and puma; other names include catamount, panther, mountain screamer, painter, panther, and purple feather.
Although large, the cougar is most closely related to smaller felines, specifically the jaguarundi, which is about one-tenth the size of the cougar. Recent studies have indicated that the cougar and jaguarundi are most closely related to the modern cheetah, but the precise relationship remains unresolved.
The cougar’s life expectancy is between 8 and 13 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.
Cougars are slender and agile members of the cat family. They are the fourth largest cats behind the tiger, lion, and jaguar. Adult males typically weigh between 115 and 220 pounds, while females average between 65 and 140 pounds. Cougar size varies by region, being smallest near the equator and larger towards the north and south poles.
The cougar’s coloring is typically a plain, tawny color, but it can range to silvery-grey or reddish. There are lighter patches on the under body, including the jaws, chin, and throat. Infants are spotted and born with blue eyes and rings on their tails.
Cougars have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. This allows it great leaping (up to 18 feet vertically and 20-40 feet horizontally) and short range sprinting (between 35 and 45 miles per hour) ability.
The cougar has the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas. Its wide distribution stems from its adaptability to virtually every habitat type. Its preferred habitats include canyons, escarpments, rim rocks, and dense underbrush, but it can also adapt to live in areas with little vegetation.
The cougar was extirpated across much of its eastern North American range after European colonization (except for a small, critically endangered population in Florida).
Like most wild cats, cougars are most active at night or during twilight hours. They employ a blend of stealth and power, stalking their prey until an opportunity arrives to pounce, then going for the back of the neck with a fatal bite. They will often hide large carcasses and feed on them for several days.
The cougar is a generalist predator, eating just about any animal it can catch, from insects to large ungulates. Its most important prey species are various deer species, including mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and even moose. It will also prey on bighorn sheep, wild horses, and domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep where available.
Like domestic cats, cougars vocalize low-pitched hisses, growls, and purrs. In the wild, they are well known for their screams, hence some of their more common names (like mountain screamer). At the sanctuary, they are better known for their unique “chirps”, particularly when approaching dinnertime.