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What is a Cougar?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A cougar, or Puma concolor, is a type of wild cat which once lived throughout the Americas. It has a number of regional common names, including puma and mountain lion, and it is considered to the largest of the small cats. Despite the formidable size of the cougar, it is classified as a small cat because it cannot roar, distinguishing it from big cats like lions and tigers. The majestic and graceful animals were hunted almost to extinction in the twentieth century, but concentrated efforts by conservationists have kept the species alive.

An adult male cougar can reach a weight of 220 pounds (100 kilograms), and has an extremely muscular body with a long tail used for balance. The coat of a cougar ranges in color from reddish brown to buff, and the cats also have dark facial markings. They are known for being extremely secretive and solitary animals, and it is highly unusual to see a cougar in the wild, as they prefer remote wilderness areas.

The diet of a cougar includes large mammals such as deer, along with smaller animals and insects. The cats typically cache their kill, meaning that they bury it so that they can return later. Ecologically, the cougar plays an important role, because it keeps the prey population small and healthy. Cougars typically single out injured or older animals for hunting, leaving healthy young animals to reproduce. In areas where cougars were heavily hunted, an explosion in the prey population resulted, causing environmental problems.

Because cougars are solitary and require a wide range, they have clashed with humans. Accelerating development of wilderness areas has led to serious pressure on cougars, as they find their natural habitat slowly taken over by humans. As a result, cougars sometimes attack domestic animals or humans for food. This results in a conflict, and usually ended in the death of the cougar until concerns were raised about hunting the animals to extinction. This had already happened in the Northeast, where cougars became extremely rare after a campaign to eradicate them. In the West, programs to implement measures such as trapping and relocation arose, so that the cougar would not disappear entirely from the American landscape.

There are many subspecies of cougar, although the exact number is a subject of debate, as many so-called subspecies are too genetically similar to be separated. The cats can be found in the Western United States and parts of South America in the wild as well as in captivity. Growing awareness about the value of the cougar has led to the establishment of wilderness areas for the cougar, and the cats appear to be making a comeback.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By medicchristy — On Nov 09, 2010

Cougars are very remarkable athletes. They also stalk and ambush their predators. They bring down their prey with incredible force and then finish them off with a lethal bite to the neck. As remarkable as they are, they are still not safe against jaguars and bears. Being on the run from their hunters have evolved them into being excellent swimmers and climbers.

By googie98 — On Nov 09, 2010

The cougar is the second heaviest cat in America, the jaguar being first. Worldwide, it is the fourth heaviest cat. Lions, jaguars, and tigers are at the top of the list.

British Columbia is known as “Cougar Island” because there have been so many reports of cougar attacks there. On an average, only one out of six Cougar cubs survive to reach adulthood.

By dill1971 — On Nov 09, 2010

@alex94: Due to the cougar’s wide range of habitat, it is known by many different names such as the panther, Yuma, puma, Florida Panther, Mountain Lion, Catamount, and Mountain Screamer. There are over 40 names in the English language for the cougar for which it holds a Guinness record.

By alex94 — On Nov 09, 2010

What are some of the other names for the cougar?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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