Cougars and mountain lions are the same animals. In fact, cougars are also referred to as mountain lions, pumas, or panthers, depending on where they live. Spanish explorers in South and North America named the animal “gato monte” (cat of the mountain). The Incas in their native language called it the “puma” while the name "cougar" originated from an ancient Native American word “cuguacuarana.” Cougars belong to the Felidae family in the Puma genus.
Cougars or the mountain lions have a solid tawny color with a whitish underside but a slightly dark hair covering the back. In humid ecosystems, the animals tend to be darker and reddish brown while those living in colder regions are covered with a thicker and longer hair which appears to be silver-gray. The body is generally slender with a calm demeanor which makes the cougars rarely confront human beings. The cats are powerfully built, have large paws with sharp claws and sharp carnivorous teeth. Hind legs are well built and more masculine than the forelegs an adaptation that enables them to jump up to 18 feet from a tree or 20 feet down a mountain. Cougars have a flexible spine like that of a cheetah to make them maneuver and change directions abruptly. Adults can reach a length of 5 feet. Males are heavier than females at between 53 and 72 kilograms while females grow to 34 to 48 kilograms. The tail length ranges from 2 to 3 feet.
Hunting And Diet Of Cougars
Mountain lions hunt by an ambush technique whereby they abruptly attack the prey and knock it down. They can see prey from a distance due to its keen eyesight especially at dawn and dusk. As apex predators, they hunt a wide variety of animals such as deer, wild pigs, raccoons, hares, capybaras, and squirrels. Any remaining part of the prey is preserved by hiding with grass, branches or even snow depending on the habitats. Once full, mountain lions will rest for a long time to conserve energy.
Habitat And Distribution
Mountain lions live in the western hemisphere from Argentina to northern British Colombia. The living habitats range from forests, deserts, swamps and mountain ranges. Mountain cats are solitary by nature with males having a huge territory that overlaps the territory of several females. The shelter is under thick bushes, caves or crevices to shield against harsh weather. Communication with each other across the vast terrain is through urine, feces, scratched logs, or marks left on the surface of the snow. Mountain cat species do not roar but produce purr sounds like smaller cats. They can also growl, yowl, hiss or squeak to communicate to other cat species.
Reproduction And Life Cycle
Females ready for breeding attract males by calling or rubbing scents on trees or rocks. The mating session lasts for a few days after which the male leaves to look for other females. The gestation period lasts 3 months after which the female gives birth to between one and six cubs which have spots to camouflage them against predators. The spots fade as they are nursed for 3 to 4 months. The cubs learn to hunt and live on their own at between 12 and 18 months before reaching sexual maturity at between 2 and 3 years.
Human beings are the greatest threat to these cats which play an essential role in the ecosystem as an apex predator. Zoos have been set to conserve the cats in captivity in various parts of the Western Hemisphere.