Puma concolor: One Color, Many Names | Houston’s Zoo No. 01

Greetings, all. My name is Houston Glover. You may or may not know me, but you’ve probably seen my recognizable pith helmet around campus. If you do know me, though, you know that the reason behind the hat is my fascination with the animal world. I’ve been a storytelling educational volunteer at the Houston Zoo (no relation), for going on five years and as such, wanted to put my skills to practice here at Schreiner. I have thus prepared this article series, to be released every Saturday, to inform and entertain you, my dear reader, each week on the subject of a different animal that I have studied.

As today is World Wildlife Day AND Schreiner Saturday, I thought there was no more appropriate subject for my first installment than our very own Monty.

Monty’s Facebook Profile Picture

Puma concolor (literally, “lion of one color”) is a creature of many names. Most English-speakers know it as a cougar, but mountain lion and puma are also popular. As a matter of fact, the Encyclopedia of Life lists more than thirty aliases for the feline in question, including such misleading handles as “Deer Tiger,” “Red Tiger,” and several involving the word “Panther.”

[As an aside, the common misuse of “panther” is something of a pet peeve of mine. Despite what Kipling’s masterful Jungle Book may have implied, It is not a specific animal itself, and the term can technically refer to any member of the genus Panthera, which includes the big four: tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards. As a matter of fact, the creatures commonly called “black panthers” are just melanistic leopards. Sorry, Marvel fans.]

But I digress.

Whatever you want to call it, Puma concolor is the second-largest cat native to the Western Hemisphere, with the largest males being upwards of 250 lbs. Historically, they also had one of the largest ranges of any cat, reaching all the way from southern Argentina and Chile to Southeast Alaska. However, due to their shy, introverted nature, the rise of urban development has pushed them out of the Eastern United States.

[Except, of course, for Florida. The Sunshine State is home to a small population of a critically endangered subspecies of Puma concolor known affectionately as the *sigh* Florida Panther. Because, Florida.]

For the most part, mountain lions behave in very much the same way as your average house-cat, only a bit more active and scaled up 15 to 25 times. They are skilled hunters, capable of taking down deer and elk that are their own size or larger. Their kills are always impressively clean and efficient, usually bringing their prey down with one well-placed bite to the back of the neck. In addition, a cougar weighing 140 lbs can lift and carry three times that weight in its mouth, over rocky terrain, and even up trees and over fences if necessary. Anything they do not eat, they cover with grass and branches to save for later.

Mountain lions generally take one large prey animal per week, supplementing the deer and elk with everything from mice to raccoons to porcupines.

When they aren’t eating, mountain lions are traversing their mountainous home ranges, often following herds of prey, watching from rugged cliffs and treetops. This would be difficult terrain for nearly any other American predator, but not the mountain lion, whose 40 foot running long jump and 15 foot vertical aid in the easy maneuvering of such a landscape.

As reclusive and hard to find as they are (and as great as they are as mascots), mountain lions can occasionally pose a threat to any unsuspecting hiker who stumbles across them in the wild. They are masters of stealth, and are the only cat outside of the big four known to prey on humans. The good news is, they have a really low encounter rate. If you do have the extreme misfortune to find yourself eye-to-eye with one, though, don’t run (it can reach 50 mph in a sprint) or play dead (it’s literally smarter than the av-er-age bear). The Mountain Lion Foundation advises:

“Maintain eye contact. Stand tall. Look bigger by opening your coat or raising your arms. Slowly wave your arms and speak firmly. Throw items at the lion if necessary. Give the cat room and time to move on.”

To wrap things up, I want to encourage you to do your own reading on mountain lions. Learn some nifty new names for them, maybe sprinkle a few into conversation with Monty and see if he reacts. Also, bear in mind that it’s not unheard of for mountain lions to be seen in the Texas Hill Country, so don’t go out hiking in the evenings without a friend.

Little life lesson there.

That’s all from me. If you have any questions, or would like to request an animal to be featured, comment down below and It’ll be my pleasure to help you out.

See you next weekend, and until then I am…As I ever am.

Photos courtesy of The Houston Zoo, World Wildlife Day, SU Monty, and yours truly.

Categories: Feature

3 replies »

    • How to experience lions? As a teen there was a car dealer who used one in tv ads and promoted featured cars… I was there and petted the de-clawed tamed beast


      • That was very much a different time, Tim. Nowadays you won’t even find very many house-cats declawed, let alone a big cat like Puma concolor. I remember an African Lion (Panthera leo) named Jonathon who lived at the Houston Zoo, whose former owners had declawed him as a cub. It really isn’t good for them, and can lead to structural issues like arthritis.
        As for “tamed,” I’m sure that’s a really loose usage of the word…


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