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 X 2 = 30; upper molar very small, sometimes absent. External measurements of large adult male: total length, 8 ft. 6 in. (2.59 m.); tail, 927 mm.; hind foot, 259 mm. Total length of three males averaged 7 feet 9 inches; of females, 6 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight of three males averaged 184 pounds (160-227 kg.); of six females, 118 pounds (105-133 kg.).
Habits. Cougars, frequently called pumas or mountain lions, formerly occurred in almost every kind of habitat within their range in which their chief prey species, deer, occurred. Now, because of continued persecution, they are nowhere common except in the most remote, thinly populated areas.
Retiring and shy by nature and nocturnal by habit, they are seldom seen in their native haunts. In more than 10 years of field work in areas known to be inhabited, I have seen only one of these large cats. In this instance, the animal was accidentally flushed from its daytime lair in a thicket.
Many folk tales repeat the savagery of cougars, their numerous attacks on man and their bloodcurdling screams, but authentic, unprovoked attacks on man are far less numerous than those of the domesticated bull. Unless cornered, the cougar avoids contact with man, but at bay he is an adversary that should command respect and caution.
These cats spend most of their time on the ground. but they are adept at climbing trees and often do so when pursued by dogs. Their chief range preferences are rocky, precipitous canyons, escarpments, rim rocks or, in the absence of these, dense brush. Heavily timbered areas usually are avoided. The presence of a cougar in an area can usually be detected by looking for scrapes, the signpost of the male, which consist of small piles of leaves, grasses and so forth, that he scrapes together and on which he urinates. These are best looked for on their travel routes along the ridges and rimrocks.
Contrary to popular opinion, cougars 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 chief item of diet is deer Analyses of stomachs revealed that in the Southwest the mule deer accounted for 54 percent of the total food (by frequency of occurrence); white-tailed deer, 28 percent; porcupines, 5.8 percent; cottontails, 3.9 percent; jackrabbits, 2 percent; domestic cows, 1.6 percent; miscellaneous (including sheep, goats, skunks, foxes, coyotes, beavers, prairie dogs and grasses), 4.7 percent - In certain areas they are known to kill and feed upon horses, particularly colts. In general, the cougar's food habits are of neutral or beneficial character. The high percentage of predation on deer probably is beneficial from a game management view in most instances because the cougar tends to prevent overpopulation of deer, which is the bane of the game manager in many areas where this cat has been exterminated.
Cougars are thought to be monogamous, at least for the mating period. The female is said to initiate the courtship and mating act. There appear to be no regular periods of reproduction. A female containing four large embryos was killed in April; another with three young nearly ready to be born was killed on January 20. Also, records are available for October and December. The gestation period is about 3 months. The number of young ranges from two to five, averaging three. At birth, the kittens are woolly, spotted, have short tails and weigh about 1 pound each. They develop teeth when about a month old, are weaned when about 2 or 3 months old and may remain with their mother until more than 1 year old. Adult females usually breed every other year.
At present, cougars usually are considered as unwanted predators. Their value as game animals has received little attention, but those who have hunted them with trained dogs vouch that the sport is thrilling and exciting. Some day we may see this animal recognized as a game animal, hunted in season and under license - a position it should have now.