The North American cougar (Puma concolor couguar) is a cougar subspecies in North America. It is the biggest cat in North America. It was once common in eastern North America and is still prevalent in the western half of the continent. It thus includes the extirpated Eastern cougar and extant Florida panther populations.
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North American cougars are slender and agile animals. They have solid tan-colored coats without spots. Their heads are round and their ears are erect. Their powerful forequarters, necks, and jaws serve to grasp and hold large prey. They have four retractile claws on their hind paws and five on their forepaws, of which one is a dewclaw. The larger front feet and claws are adaptations for clutching prey.
North American cougars occur in the western half of North America including western Canada, the western United States, Florida, Mexico, and Central America, and possibly South America northwest of the Andes Mountains. They live in all forest types, lowland, and mountainous deserts, and in open areas with little vegetation. They also prefer steep canyons, escarpments, rim rocks, and dense brush.
North American cougars usually hunt at night and sometimes travel long distances in search of food. They are ambush predators that pursue a wide variety of prey. They are fast and can maneuver quite easily and skillfully. Cougars are solitary and territorial animals. Male home ranges include or overlap with those of females but, at least where studied, not with those of other males. The home ranges of females overlap slightly. Males create scrapes composed of leaves and duff with their hind feet, and mark them with urine and sometimes feces. When males encounter each other, they vocalize and may engage in violent conflict if neither backs down. Cougars communicate with various vocalizations including growls, spits, snarls, and hisses. Mothers and offspring keep in contact with whistles, chirps, and mews.
Cougars are generalists and hypercarnivores. They prefer large mammals such as mule deer, White-tailed deer, elk, moose, Mountain goats, and Bighorn sheep. They will opportunistically take smaller prey such as rodents, lagomorphs, smaller carnivores, birds, and even domestic animals including pets.
Cougars have a polygynous mating system meaning that males mate with more than one female during the breeding season. Gestation lasts for about 82-103 days long and females of North American cougars usually give birth to 3 kittens. Only females are involved in parenting. Kittens are born blind, and they are completely dependent on their mothers at first, and begin to be weaned at around 3 months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mothers, first visiting kill sites, and after 6 months beginning to hunt small prey on their own. The young will remain with their mothers for 1-2 years.
The main threats to cougars include the loss of their native habitat and hunting. Road kills is another serious cause of mortality for these animals.
According to Wikipedia resource, in Oregon, the total population size of the North American cougar consists of 5,000 individuals. California has an estimated population of 4,000 to 6,000 individuals. Presently, the North American cougar is not included in the IUCN Red List and its conservation status has not been evaluated. As a whole, the cougar species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.
Cougars play an important role in the ecosystem they live in; due to their diet habits they control populations of large mammals.