The New International Encyclopædia/Puma

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PUMA (Peruvian name), Cougar, or Mountain Lion. A large American cat (Felis concolor), originally native from the watershed of Hudson Bay to the Straits of Magellan, and still present except in the most civilized parts of the country. It is of slender build, with a rather small head and long limbs, and usually measures about 40 inches from the snout to the root of the tail, which usually is about 26 inches in length, and of nearly the same thickness throughout. Unlike the other great American cat, the jaguar (q.v.), which is densely spotted, the adult puma has no spots, except that the lips and the outer rim of the ear are black, there is a patch of white on each side of the muzzle, and the tip of the tail usually is blackish. The upper parts are uniform dull fox-red, appearing gray in certain lights, owing to the fact that each hair is fawn-gray, red only at the tip; the throat, belly, and inside of the legs are reddish-white. This unspotted, tawny coat led the earliest explorers on the Atlantic coast to regard the animal as a lion, and the name survives in the West. The early settlers in the States called it a panther (usually pronounced ‘painter’). ‘Cougar’ is derived from a Brazilian language, but involves an error. (See Cougar.) ‘Puma’ was its native name in Peru. Considering that the species is distributed over so great a range of territory, its variations in form and color are surprisingly small.

In the Eastern United States it has been greatly dreaded as a fierce and treacherous beast, particularly dangerous because of its alleged habit of springing upon travelers from branches of trees or rocky ledges. When attacked it was courageous in resistance, and the killing of one was justly considered evidence of skill and courage. In the West, on the other hand, the mountain lion, although more numerous in the Rocky Mountains than the panther ever appears to have been in the East, has always been regarded as a shy and cowardly beast, little to be feared, except when cornered. The truth seems to be that this animal has less ferocity than any other of the great cats, and under ordinary circumstances is inclined to avoid rather than to attack men, and often seems to seek their company in a friendly way. This timidity and confidence aided the easy extinction of these animals throughout the eastern part of the country, but they are still abundant in the Rocky Mountains, and westward, where the ranching industries supply them with abundant food in the young cattle and horses. The principal food of the puma in North America was deer, but it seized any smaller prey which came in its way. The mode of hunting was by lying in wait for or creeping within leaping distance of the victim and then springing upon it. In the case of sheep, to which in the Southwestern United States it is especially destructive, the puma rarely contents itself with taking a single one, which would satisfy its hunger, but, having once entered a fold or flock, it kills right and left, so that in many eases a hundred sheep have been killed out of a flock in one night by a single puma. Their silence when hunting or when attacked is a notable characteristic; yet on rare occasions, in winter nights, they make the woods resound with terrifying screams. The young are born in the early spring, and are usually two or three in number; and it is believed that under natural conditions most pairs breed only once in two years. The kittens at first are covered with black spots and stripes, and their tails are ringed. These markings disappear at the end of about six months, after which they become of the uniform color of their parents. Full size is not attained before the end of the second year, and during all this time they associate with the mother, while the father of the family seems to lead a solitary existence. Like other cats, their hunting is entirely at night.

Bibliography. True, “The Puma,” an illustrated monograph with full bibliography, in Annual Report Smithsonian Institution (Washington, 1889); Merriam, Vertebrates of the Adirondacks (New York, 1893); Porter, Wild Beasts (New York, 1894); Baillie-Grohman, Fifteen Years . . . in the Hunting Grounds of Western America (London, 1900); Alston, Biologia Centrali-Americana (London, 1879-82); Hudson, The Naturalist in La Plata (London, 1892). See Colored Plate of Cat Family, accompanying article Lion.