Species: concolor coryi
Puma, cougar, mountain lion, panther and catamount – these names are often used interchangeably to describe big cats, much to the confusion of the public. What do all the names mean? Are they the same or different species?
Technically, they are all common names for one species of wild cat, Puma concolor. The historic range of Puma concolor included almost all of North and South America. The species was so wide-reaching and populous that it had multiple sub-species that varied based on location Throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s, people feared Puma concolor, because it posed a risk to their livestock. The species was maliciously hunted and almost eradicated from the eastern United States.
Only one subspecies remains in the eastern U.S. - the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi). Hunting decimated the population badly and it was one of the first species added to the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1973.
Today, there are less than 100 Florida panthers left in the wild. They are found in southern Florida in swamplands such as Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. The species is so critically endangered that it is vulnerable to just about every major threat – from habitat loss to cars and even feline diseases. Although there is a lot left to do to save the Florida panther, conservationists are working hard to study the cats and hopefully make the population healthy and viable.
Description: Florida panthers are large, tan cats. Their bodies are mainly covered in tawny-beige fur, except for the whitish-gray belly and chest. Black markings decorate the tip of the tail, ears and around the snout.
The main way to tell a Florida panther from other sub-species of Puma concolor is by looking at the tail and back. Florida panthers have a crooked tail and a unique patch of fur on the back. The back fur is almost like a cowlick, not conforming to the rest of the panther’s fur.
Size: Florida panthers are about 6-7 feet long – males are bigger than females.
Diet: Florida panthers are carnivores. They are skilled at hunting white-tailed deer, feral hogs, raccoons and other medium-sized mammals and reptiles. Florida panthers also stalk birds.
Typical Lifespan: They live about 12 years in the wild, but with such a small population of Florida panthers left, they are very susceptible to disease, genetic disorders and car accidents.
Habitat: Florida panthers utilize a diversity of warm climate habitats. They live in wetlands, swamps, upland forests, and stands of saw palmetto.
Range: The historic range of the Florida panther extended from Florida to Louisiana throughout the Gulf Coast states and Arkansas. Today, the only place with wild Florida panthers is the southwestern tip of Florida.
Communication: Just because a cat is large, doesn’t mean it’s going to roar like a lion. In fact, Florida panthers can’t roar at all! They purr, hiss, snarl, growl and yowl to communicate.
Florida panthers are territorial and solitary. They use pheromones and physical signs (like claw markings or feces) to define their territory.
Life History and Reproduction: Florida panthers live alone, unless a pair is mating or a female is raising cubs. Males roam much larger territories than the females. A male can make a territory over 200-250 square miles in size.
In the mating season of November to March, males venture out to find a female mate. After they breed, the female is pregnant for about 3 months. She’ll give birth to a litter of 1-3 kittens. Not all of the kittens will survive into adulthood.
At birth, the kittens are born covered in dark spots. The spots help camouflage the kittens under forest debris. The kittens are vulnerable to predators, especially right after birth when they are blind. As they develop, the spots fade away and they look more and more like adult panthers. The kittens stay with their mother for about a year and a half before they leave to form their own territories.
Threats to Florida Panthers:
- Habitat Loss – Construction reduces available habitat important to territorial panthers.
- Human-Wildlife Conflicts – Florida panthers cross roads and highways and are hit by cars.
- Low Genetic Diversity
- Pollution – Mercury
- Disease – Feline leukemia
- Fear – A misunderstanding of the dangers posed by Florida panthers prevents reintroductions to new areas.
Florida panthers are listed as Endangered on the Endangered Species List.
National Wildlife Magazine Articles:
Cat on a Collision Course
Where Would they Be Now?
The Health of North America's Big Cats (PDF)
Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge