The Puma: The Epitome of Adaptability

Cougar by Art G. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It has been a long time since I have published any research-based posts. Now that I am living in mountain lion (Puma concolor) territory, I have decided to devote more attention to them. So here is a brief introduction to this most adaptable of cats.

Common Names

This is a cat of many names. It is called Puma concolor in the scientific community; mountain lion in the Western United States; cougar in the Eastern U.S.; panther in Florida; and puma throughout much of Latin America. For the remainder of this post I will use the term “puma.”

Range

The reason pumas have so many names is their expansive geographic range. Found from Canada to Southern Chile, they have the widest range of any land-dwelling mammal in the Western Hemisphere (Nielsen, Thompson, Kelly, & Lopez-Gonzalez, 2015). Despite this, substantial portions of the puma’s historic range have been lost. They have been extirpated (regionally extinct) in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S.: although an endangered population of 100-120 individuals persists in Southern Florida (Hunter, 2015).

In addition, there is evidence that pumas have begun to recolonize the Midwest. Breeding populations now exist in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska (LaRue et al., 2012). Furthermore, in January 2017 a female puma was confirmed in Missouri. This is not definitive proof of a breeding population, but it increases the likelihood of one (Hemmelgarn, 2017).

In South America, pumas have been eliminated from large sections of Argentina and Chile (Hunter, 2015).

Cougar Range Map 2010 by Kokosdieb. CC BY-SA 3.0
Subspecies

There are six genetically distinct subspecies of Puma concolor. They are:

  • P. c. cougar in North America
  • P. c. costaricenses in Central America
  • P. c. capricornensis in eastern South America
  • P. c. concolor in northern South America
  • P. c. cabrerae in central South America
  • P. c. puma in southern South America (Hunter et al, 2015; Nielsen et al., 2015).
Size

Male pumas weigh between 56.2 – 64.4 kgs (124 – 142 lbs), whereas females have been measured between 27.2 – 36.3 kgs (60 – 80 lbs) (Macdonald, Loveridge, & Nowell, 2010, p. 44). Pumas are largest at the Northern and Southern ends of their range, and smallest near the equator (Hunter, 2015).

Adaptability

The puma’s most remarkable feature is its adaptability. From deserts to forests to the outskirts of Los Angeles – they are found in a wide variety of habitats. Pumas have even been recorded at elevations up to 5,800 metres (19,000 ft) (Nielsen et al., 2015).

The puma’s adaptability is also manifest in its diet. They will eat anything. Elk, deer, rabbits, sloths, armadillos, insects, and more: these cats can make due with a diverse range of prey (Hunter, 2015; Panthera, 2017c). But their versatility does not make pumas invulnerable.

Pumas can cope with extreme conditions, but they do have limits. Mountain Lion by Eric Gorski. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Conservation Status

Globally, Puma concolor is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. But regionally its status varies. It is classified as Near Threatened in Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. However, in Brazil all pumas found outside of Amazonia are considered to be Vulnerable (Nielsen et al., 2015).

Threats

Pumas are faced with similar threats as other large cats. Habitat loss and fragmentation, direct killings in order to protect livestock, and overhunting of their natural prey are all contributing to their declining population (Panthera, 2017c; Nielsen et al., 2015). Pumas are also subject to sport hunting throughout much of their range, which in some areas appears unsustainable (Johnson, 2015). Lastly, in Southern Argentina a bounty system still exists in which hunters are paid to kill pumas. Obviously this does not increase the cats’ survival prospects (Hunter, 2015).

A major threat to pumas in my area, Northern California, stems from trespass marijuana grows. These illegal operations put tons of poison into the woods, which kills everything from rodents to pumas. More information about this problem is located here.

In March 2014, celebrity mountain lion P22 tested positive for anti-coagulant rodenticides. These poisons are deployed in obscene quantities by some marijuana grows in Northern California. Here is P22 suffering from mange. P22 Mange by the National Park Service. Public Domain.
Conclusion

The puma is an extremely adaptable cat. It can survive in many different habitats, has a varied diet, and occupies an extensive range. But their extinction in the Eastern half of North America shows that pumas are not invincible. It is still necessary to study and conserve this remarkable species, to make sure they can cope with the changes we are introducing to their landscapes.

Further Reading:

Hunter, L. (2015). Wild cats of the world. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Nielsen, C., Thompson, D., Kelly, M. & Lopez-Gonzalez, C.A. (2015). Puma concolor. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T18868A97216466. Retrieved from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/18868/0.

Panthera. (2017). Puma. Retrieved from https://www.panthera.org/cat/puma.

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21 thoughts on “The Puma: The Epitome of Adaptability

    1. In general legalization is probably the right move, but I don’t think it will help for these specific operations. The reason why I called them illegal is that they’re what’s called trespass grows: they occur without the approval of the property owner. So these operations will be subject to the same regulations as other marijuana grows, because no one knows where they are. The best way to deal with them is to find them and shut them down, in order to reduce the competition they pose to ethical growers. Search for ‘trespass marijuana grows’ in this blog’s search bar for more information.

      Liked by 1 person

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