|Puma (Felis) concolor Linnaeus|
Don Linzey & Christy Brecht
Wytheville Community College
Wytheville, Virginia 24382
Last updated: 26 November, 2005
- Adult total length:
70 - 105 in. (1,800 - 2,700 mm)
29 - 35 in. (750 - 900 mm)
- Hind foot:
10 1/2 - 11 1/4 in. (260 - 280 mm)
100 - 220 lbs. (45 - 100 kg)
The mountain lion is the largest cat in the park.
It can easily be distinguished from the bobcat not
only by its larger size, but also by its long tail.
Also known as "panther" or "painter" in the southern
Appalachians, this animal is generally tawny or
yellowish-brown above and dull whitish to buff below.
The sides of the muzzle, the backs of the ears, and
the tip of the tail are black or dark brown.
The mountain lion has the widest distribution of any species of native
mammal in the Western Hemisphere, formerly ranging across southern Canada,
through the United States, and south throughout South America to
Patagonia. It is now extirpated from much of its range in the United States
and some parts of South America. However, it is still common locally from
the Rocky Mountains westward, along the Mexican border in Texas, in southern
Florida, and possibly from central Maine into Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
left lateral view of
skull and mandible
dorsal view of skull
ventral view of skull
In the eastern United States, suitable habitat consists of mountains,
hilly woodlands, and southern swamps. Dense vegetation, rocky crevices,
and caves may be used as temporary shelters.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Linzey and Linzey (1968) summarized the
history of the mountain lion in the park and
The first record of this species dates back to 1840-50 when
John Oliver reported that he heard of two "panthers" being
killed in Cades Cove. In 1859, Buckley noted that the "panther"
was troublesome to the mountain farmers of North Carolina and
Tennessee, destroying their sheep and hogs. Brimley
(1944), writing about the mammals of
North Carolina, recorded the cougar as being "apparently
extinct," the last specimens having been killed near Highlands
and in Craven County, North Carolina, about 1886. After a
journey through the Great Smoky Mountains during the summer
of 1887, Merriam (1888) reported that
the panther was "unknown." Between 1895 and 1905, a "panther"
was reported by Wm. Barnes on Big Creek. There are reports
that two cougars were killed about 1899-one near Smokemont
and the other in the Greenbrier area.
The last report of a cougar being killed in the Great Smokies
comes from the winter of 1920 (Brewer, 1964):
Tom Sparks was attacked by a cougar while herding sheep on
Spence Field. He inflicted a deep wound in its left shoulder.
Several months later, a cougar was killed near what is now
Fontana Village, and its left shoulder blade had been cut in
two. It was believed to be the same cat that Sparks had wounded.
Several years later, Ganier (1928) reported
that the panther was extinct in Tennessee, "save possibly a
half dozen individuals in the Great Smokies."
Hamnett and Thornton (1953), in discussing
the status of this cat in North Carolina, stated that it is
"now believed to be extinct... Last positive records for the
State were from the Coastal Region... in the early 1900s...
Until positive proof of the cougar's existence is furnished...
we must continue to regard this animal as virtually extinct in
Culbertson (1977) examined the status and
history of this species in the park. Twelve sightings were
reported for the years 1908-1965 and 31 sightings for the years
1966-1976. Culbertson stated: "The number of lion sightings
through the years suggest that the mountain lion may never have
actually been extinct in the Great Smoky Mountains area. The
lion may have been able to maintain itself in small numbers in
the more inaccessible mountainous regions in or around the park.
The present lion population could be derived in part from this
small reservoir... It is believed that there were three to six
mountain lions living in the park in 1975, and other lions were
reported to the southeast and northeast of the park as well.
Lions were seen most frequently near areas of high deer density."
Park files contain many interesting reports of purported mountain
lion sightings. Every year, several additional reports are
received. If, in fact, the animals being observed are mountain
lions, they may be part of the original population as Culbertson
suggested, or more likely, they may be captive animals that
have either escaped or been released. Tennessee residents may
legally possess captive western mountain lions; North Carolina
residents may not. Mountain lions that have been found in eastern
states have shown signs of being in captivity (tattoos,
defanged, declawed, etc.).
Although mountain lions may breed throughout the year, mating
is believed to be most common from December to March. Young
mountain lions are generally born from April to September after
a gestation of 82 to 96 days (Young and Goldman,
1946; Eaton and Verlander, 1977). The
usual litter consists of two to three kittens, and litters may
be spaced as far as two to three years apart. The young are born
in the den, but no nest is constructed.
Newborn mountain lions are well furred, have their eyes closed,
weigh about 400 g, and are between 200 and 300 mm long. The eyes
open between 10 and 14 days. By about 6 weeks of age, the young
can consume fresh meat. Until approximately three months of age,
young mountain lions have distinct black spots on their
yellowish-brown coats and bands on their tails and legs. These
markings fade rapidly but some may still be visible after 12 months.
Young mountain lions remain with the female for an indefinate time,
in some instances up to 18 to 24 months. Mountain lions are at
least two, and probably three, years old when they begin breeding.
Mountain lions probably live about 12 years in the wild.
- Terrestrial Ecology
Mountain lions are solitary and mainly nocturnal. They are active
during all seasons. Although they remain on the ground most of
the time, they are adept at climbing, particularly when being pursued.
The home range of a mountain lion is highly variable and depends
on sex, age, food availability, and reproductive condition. An
adult may regularly cover an area of 25 to 50 km.
Deer are the preferred food, but rabbits, rodents, and turkeys
may also be taken. A large kill is usually covered with brush after
being partially consumed, and the animal returns for additional meals.
- Predators and Defense
The mountain lion's main enemy is man.
None recorded from the park.
Links to Other Sites
- Special Protection Status
The eastern puma was classified as a Federally
Endangered species by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in 1973.
- In Park:
All plants and animals are protected within
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Collection
requires a permit which is usually granted only for
research or educational purposes.
- Map development
- Web page design & coding
- Denise Lim, University of Georgia, Athens
- John Pickering, University of Georgia, Athens
Brewer, C. 1964.
Hike recalls tales of tall guide, panther wrestling.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel. June 28.
Brimley, C. S. 1944-46.
The mammals of North Carolina. Eighteen installments in
Carolina Tips. Carolina Biological Supply Co., Elon College, NC.
Culbertson, N. 1977.
Status and history of the mountain lion in the Great Smoky Mountains
National Park. Uplands Field Research Laboratory Research/Resource
Management Report No. 15.
Currier, M. J. P. 1983.
Felis concolor. Mammalian Species No. 200: 1-7.
American Society of Mammalogists.
Eaton, R. L., and K. A. Verlander. 1977.
Reproduction in the puma: biology, behavior, and ontogeny.
Pages 435-470. In: Eaton, R. L. (editor). The World's Cats.
Volume 3, Number 3. Seattle: Carnivore Research Institute, Burke
Museum, University of Washington.
Ganier, A. F. 1928.
The wild life of Tennessee. Journal of theTennessee Academy of
Science 3 (3): 10-22.
Hamnett, W. L., and D. C. Thornton. 1953.
Tar Heel Wildlife. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission,
Linzey, D.W., and A.V. Linzey. 1968.
Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 84 (3): 384-414.
Linzey, D. W. 1995a.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Blacksburg,
Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Linzey, D. W. 1995b.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park-1995 Update.
Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 111(1):1-81.
Linzey, D.W. 1998.
The Mammals of Virginia. Blacksburg, Virginia:
The McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Merriam, C. H. 1888.
Remarks on the fauna of the Great Smoky Mountains; with description
of a new species of red-backed mouse (Evotomys Carolinensis).
American Journal of Science, 3rd Series 36 (216): 458-460.
Young, S. P., and E. A. Goldman. 1946.
The Puma, Mysterious American Cat. Washington, D.C.:
American Wildlife Institute.
Last modified: 10 April, 2002