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Puma concolor (Linnaeus 1771)

Order Carnivora : Family Felidae

DESCRIPTION. A large, long-tailed, unspotted cat; body long and lithe; tail more than half the length of head and body, rounded in cross section, and black-tipped; claws long, sharp, and curved; soles haired but pads naked; ears small, rounded, without tufts; upperparts and sides dull tawny, darkest on middle of back and tail; face from nose to eyes grayish brown; a pale patch above each eye; back of ear blackish; chin, lips, throat, and underparts whitish; underside of tail grayish white. Dental formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/2, M 1/1 × 2 = 30; upper molar very small, sometimes absent. External measurements of a large adult male: total length, 2.6 m; tail, 927 mm; hind foot, 259 mm. Total length of males ranges from 2.0 to 2.3 m; females, 2.0 to 2.1 m. Weight of three males, 160–227 kg; of six females, 105–133 kg.

Puma concolor

DISTRIBUTION. Once statewide; now most common in desert mountain ranges of the Trans-Pecos region, especially in Big Bend National Park. It is uncommon in the Edwards Plateau and dense brushlands of the Rio Grande Plains. Historic and recent breeding areas in South Texas include the upper Nueces River, north of Frio, to Cotulla, and west to Eagle Pass. Recent sightings suggest occasional dispersal into the canyon country associated with the Llano Estacado and Panhandle, as well as into the Gulf Coastal Marsh region.

Distribution of Puma concolor

SUBSPECIES. Puma c. stanleyana (most of the state) and P. c. azteca (area around El Paso).

HABITS. Mountain lions (or cougars and panthers) spend most of their time on the ground, but they are adept at climbing trees when pursued by dogs. Their preferred habitat is rocky, precipitous canyons, escarpments, rimrocks, or, in the absence of these, dense brush. Heavily timbered areas usually are avoided. Nocturnal and shy by habit, they are seldom seen. The presence of a mountain lion in an area usually can be detected by looking for scrapes, the signpost of the male, which consists of small piles of leaves and grasses that he scrapes together and on which he urinates. These are best found on mountain lion travel routes along the ridges and rimrocks.

Contrary to popular opinion, mountain lions seldom use caves as dens. An area under an overhanging ledge, a crevice in a cliff, a dry cavity in a jumbled pile of rocks, an enlarged badger burrow, a cavity under the roots of a tree, or a dense thicket seem to be more desirable.

Their food is almost entirely animal matter, but as with domestic cats, grasses may be eaten occasionally. The primary item of the diet is deer. Analyses of stomachs revealed (by frequency of occurrence) that in the Southwest, the mule deer accounted for 54% of the total food; white-tailed deer, 28%; porcupines, 5.8%; cottontails, 3.9%; jackrabbits, 2%; domestic cows, 1.6%; and miscellaneous (including sheep, goats, skunks, foxes, coyotes, beavers, prairie dogs, and grasses), 4.7%. The high percentage of predation on deer probably is beneficial from a game management view in most instances because the mountain lion tends to prevent overpopulation of deer, which can be a problem in many areas where this cat has been exterminated. In South Texas, feral hogs and peccaries rank just behind deer in prey importance. Predation on cattle is rare.

Mountain lions are solitary except for a short breeding period of up to 2 weeks, duration, when the female is in estrous. The gestation period is about 3 months. The number of young ranges from two to five, averaging three. At birth, the kittens are woolly and spotted, have short tails, and weigh about 450 g each. They develop teeth when about 1 month old, are weaned when about 2 or 3 months old, and may remain with their mother until >1 year old. Adult females usually breed for the first time between 2 and 3 years of age and breed once every 2 or 3 years afterwards.

POPULATION STATUS. Uncommon. Historically, mountain lions occurred virtually throughout the state. Years of predator control efforts by livestock producers, however, forced the remaining mountain lions into the more remote, thinly populated areas. Today, the largest mountain lion populations are in the desert mountain ranges of the Trans-Pecos, especially in the Big Bend region, with fewer numbers in the dense brushlands of the Rio Grande Plains. Also, reports of these large cats are occasionally confirmed in parts of the Edwards Plateau and rarely in the Big Thicket. Predator control efforts have slowed since about 1970, and mountain lion populations appear to be stabilizing and repopulating portions of its former range, including the Edwards Plateau, Panhandle, and Gulf Coast areas.

CONSERVATION STATUS. The IUCN lists the mountain lion as a species of least concern, and it does not appear on the federal or state lists of concerned species. Texas is the only state with a resident mountain lion population that does not regulate taking of the species. Current management practices are controversial and relate to whether the species should remain listed as nongame with no regulation of take or listed as a game species with regulation of harvest within the state. Presently, TPWD classifies the species as a predator, thus allowing unregulated trapping, killing, and transporting of mountain lions. Although still regarded by many as unwanted predators, mountain lions have begun in recent years to receive some recognition for their ecological, aesthetic, and sporting value. Efforts by concerned private citizens and environmental groups may someday result in their being recognized as a game animal, hunted in season and under license. Hunting is the primary factor in mountain lion mortality, and the populations in the marginal areas of the Edwards Plateau and eastern Texas are clearly too low to sustain hunting pressure of any type. Multiple studies by Michael Tewes (Texas A&M–Kingsville) in the last 20 years have suggested the mountain lion in South Texas is vulnerable by habitat, demographic, and genetic factors.

REMARKS. In previous editions the scientific name for the mountain lion was given as Felis concolor.

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From The Mammals of Texas, Seventh Edition by David J. Schmidly and Robert D. Bradley, copyright © 1994, 2004, 2016.  Courtesy of the University of Texas Press.