Species and Classification.
The cougar, also known as puma, mountain lion, or catamount (scientific name, Puma concolor) was once one of the most widely-distributed land mammals on earth, ranging from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans and from northern British Columbia to southern Chile. In North America, cougars now inhabit the rocky terrain of the Canadian and American west, with the exception of the isolated and endangered Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) in southern Florida.
Taxonomically, cougars are more closely related to domestic cats than they are to the other "large cats" of the world (i.e., tigers, lions, and jaguars), as they cannot roar and often communicate with chirps, hisses, and growls.
Adults range in color from a tawny brown color to a reddish or brown-gray. Kittens are born with spots that gradually disappear after about 2 years.
On all fours, cougars stand 24-26 inches at the shoulder.
Adults can weigh up to 200 pounds, making cougars the fourth largest cat in the world.
From nose to tail, adult cougars are 6 to 8 feet in length.
The Cougar Network provides the Puma Identification Guide and Puma Field Guide. The Identification Guide is the go-to source for how to differentiate a cougar from other cats by its appearance, tracks, and kill sites. The Field Guide provides a detailed study of the the cougar's biology, life history, management practices, capture, population, and habitat. Click a thumbnail to download the PDF.
Current cougar range in North America includes the rugged terrain of the Canadian and American west and a small population in southern Florida (the endangered Florida panther). See our interactive confirmations map for Cougar Network verifications outside of their normal range.
Cougars are habitat generalists, meaning they can be found in areas ranging from the desert to thick forests. They typically prefer areas far from humans and dense vegetation or cover for stalking prey and raising young.
While there is no exact estimate for the global population of cougars , it is thought that roughly 30,000 cougars exist in the American west. Densities can range from 1-7 cougars per 100 km2, with males tolerating a few females within its home range.
The main prey source for cougars are ungulates, with white-tail deer, mule deer, and elk representing up to 80% of prey items. Other smaller prey can include rabbits, turkeys, bighorn sheep, and even porcupines!
Cougars are stalk-and-ambush predators, which means that they require dense cover to hide from their prey while they are hunting. When a prey item is close enough, the cougar will pounce, usually clutching the jugular in their powerful jaws.
Cougars typically do not consume their prey all at once, and are known to cache their prey by covering it with leaves or grass to cover it to return to at a later time.
Cougars were once a bountied predator, but management practices in the mid-20th century turned to managing the animal as a game species. This management practice, in combination with increasing ungulate herds, has apparently allowed for cougars to rebound in North America, such that young males now are dispersing out of established populations in the West and into the Midwest.
Cougars are a retreating animal and very wary of people. Within the United States and Canada since 1890, there have been less than 100 attacks on humans, with about 20 fatalities. Encountering a cougar, let alone being attacked, is incredibly rare.
Notable conservation measures for the species include the introduction of Texas mountain lions to southern Florida, in an effort to combat inbreeding in the Florida panther population. In general, this effort has been considered a success, as the Texas-Florida crosses introduced new genetic material and increased the average survival of the endangered panther population.
Population studies, attack prevention, and conservation are all due to the diligence of cougar researchers. The Cougar Network is part of that effort and you can support us by making a donation to our own research.