Known for having the largest range in the Western hemisphere, extending from southeast Alaska to southern Argentina and Chile, the Puma has different names in different countries. Commonly known as the Puma, it is also called a cougar, Mountain lion and Panther. While the Incas called it Puma, which stands for powerful, the cougar was probably abbreviated from the old South American Indian word, cuguacuarana. But the early Spanish explorers called it Leon or lion and gato monte or cat of the mountain, from which originated the name, mountain lion, first used in writing in 1858.
However, the Panther is a general term for cats with solid coloured coats and is used for black pumas, black jaguars and black leopards as well. Nevertheless, despite being the second largest cat in the New World, the Puma is closely related to smaller felines, including the domestic cats and it cannot roar like the other big cats, but purrs like a cat.
With the exception of humans, the puma has the largest range of any terrestrial mammal in the Western hemisphere and although primarily found in the mountains of North and South America, they are highly adaptive and can be found in a large variety of habitats, including tropical jungle, grasslands, even in arid desert regions.
But they tend to avoid agricultural areas, flatlands and other habitats lacking cover.
Reckoned as the fourth-largest in the cat family, puma males can reach around 8 feet (2.4 m) from nose to the tip of the tail with a bodyweight typically between 52 to 100 kg, while females can reach around 6.6 feet (2 m) from nose to tail and body weight between 30 to 64 kg. They have muscular necks and strong jaws and their heads are round, with pinkish noses and erect ears. Their retractile claws are sharp and curved.
They also have long tails, about one-third of their total length, ranging from 25 to 37 inches, commonly tipped with black and usually held close to the ground when they walk.
The pumas of the mountainous regions have a thick fur coat to help retain body heat during freezing winters. The coat is uniformly brown on the back, almost buff on the belly, while the throat and chest are whitish. However, the shade of brown varies geographically and seasonally, from grey to reddish brown. Strongly built and equipped with large paws and sharp claws, the hind legs of the puma are larger and stronger than the front legs, which gave them enormous jumping power. Capable to leap as high as 18 feet (5 m) and as far as 40 to 45 feet (12 to 14 m) horizontally, they spring from cover at close range, usually from behind the intended victim. However, they can sprint up to 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) to catch their prey.
Pumas have acute hearing and excellent vision, which makes them formidable hunters. They are carnivorous stalkers and eat a variety of prey, including deer, pigs, capybaras, raccoons, armadillos, hares, squirrels, cattle and sheep. When feeding on a larger mammal like bighorn sheep or mountain goat, they lessen spoilage and loss to scavengers by dragging the kill to a secluded spot and covering it with leaves and debris. But it is rare for pumas to feed on carcasses that they did not kill.
Although courtship and mating of the pumas occur throughout the year, it is concentrated from December to March in northern latitudes. Except for breeding associations that last one to six days, adult males and female Pumas are solitary animals. They are usually silent, but during the breeding period, they emit long, frightening screams intermittently for several hours. The male pumas become sexually mature at about 3 years of age, but females become ready to breed within 2 1/2 years. When a female is in estrous, the period in the sexual cycle, she vocalizes freely and frequently rubs against nearby objects to alert any interested male in the area. The male reciprocates with similar yowls and sniffs the female's genital area. While a single copulation lasts less than a minute, the highest frequency of copulation was recorded nine times in one hour. After the mating, the male and female part ways and while the male continues to mate with other females, the female cares for the kittens on her own. After a gestation period of around 90 days, the female gives birth to 1 to 6 kittens, weighing 225 to 450 grams, with closed eyes and ears and without any tooth. They nurse for about 40 days and remain together with the mother for about a year.
While their life expectancy in the wild averages 15 years, they can live slightly longer in captivity. However, male pumas remain reproductively active to at least an age of 20 years, females to at least an age of 12 years.