Knowing that members of a certain species sometimes reach a certain size is not always the same as actually seeing images of that certain species at that certain size.
The Puma, Cougar or Mountain lion Puma concolor (other names include panther, painter, catamount, mountain devil, silver lion, brown tiger, red tiger, king cat, Indian devil, purple feather (wtf?), mountain demon, sneak cat, leao and onça vermilha) is a highly variable animal (its historic range extends across much of the length and breadth of the Americas), but an average example from an average population might be anywhere between 1.7-2.7 m in total length, and weigh between about 60 and 80 kg (though the range is from 25 to over 110 kg; Currier (1983) gives the ‘average’ range as between 55 and 65 kg). Pumas seem to conform to Bergmann’s rule (Gay & Best 1996), though the presence of jaguars and the size of available prey also seem to have an influence on their body size. Animals at the upper end of this range must be impressive beasts: larger than even a very big leopard, and only 10 kg or so lighter than an average African lioness. Here are some pictures of big pumas: the specimens might not be record holders, but I find them interesting as they show pumas that are, to me, exceptionally big.
If you’re American you may well have seen these first images [above] already, as I understand that they’ve been emailed round a lot. The story that accompanies the images is usually modified, but after a bit of research I think I found the correct one (I got it from here on Snopes.com). In November or December 2007, this animal was hit by a truck on Highway 64 in northern Arizona. The couple driving the truck pulled over and found the cat still alive but beyond help; they called 911, and Jason Ellico, an officer from the state’s Department of Public Safety, later dispatched it. Unfortunately the cat wasn’t weighed at the scene but it took three people to lift it and its mass was estimated at 200-220 lbs (90-100 kg). It was over 2.1 m long. Ellico – the guy in the photos – is also a taxidermist and offered to prepare the animal (I don’t suppose anyone has photos of the final mount?). When I first learnt of this case (hat-tip Matt Wedel again), the photos came with a story about how the cat had been killed in Swenson, Texas, and a few local details were added: supposedly, a local land-owner had seen the puma ‘dragging off a 320 lb steer’.
In fact the story has been modified and tweaked innumerable times, with the puma’s death being placed at various locations in Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Michigan, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Illinois! You don’t have to be an expert on cats to realise that many of these areas are not officially home to pumas anymore: they’re thought to be absent from Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania [go to The Cougar Network for more information; adjacent range map from that site]. Illinois was supposed to lack them (they supposedly became extinct there before 1860), but one died after being hit by a train there in 2000 (Heist et al. 2001), and sightings have recently been reported in Kentucky.
Anyway, some retellings give the 2007 Arkansas cat a mass of 260 lbs (118 kg), which would make it one of the biggest pumas ever recorded, if true. Theodore Roosevelt gave measurements of 2.43 m and 102.9 kg for a specimen from Colorado (this is probably where the ‘103 kg’ given in some books comes from) and Guggisberg (1975) and others have given upper mass limits of 110 kg. However, Brakefield (1993) mentions a specimen killed in Utah that weighed 119 kg and states that the heaviest yet was from Arizona: with its intestines removed it was 124 kg, and so originally must have weighed 135 kg at the very least. So the 2007 Arizona cat was at the far end of the spectrum, but without better information it’s difficult to be sure how close to the ‘record holder’ title it was.
Here’s another big one. This one was killed in a hunt and there are a couple of photos that show the hunters and their dogs alongside the carcass. Because I’m bored of seeing people shouting ‘photoshop’ whenever they see any photo of an unusually large animal, I’m only showing here the one photo where there’s no doubt about the scale of the animal (plus, in the other photos, a bit of forced perspective seems to be used, as is typical for hunting shots. When will they stop doing that?). Killed in February 2007, this individual was reportedly 210 lbs (95 kg). It has variously been reported to have been shot in Oregon or Alberta: apparently, Oregon is out as it’s illegal to hunt pumas with dogs there.
I personally don’t quite get why anyone would want to kill an animal as magnificent as this, but it’s good to know that there are still pumas this big roaming North America… or, at least, there were in 2007.
For previous Tet Zoo pieces on pumas see Pumas of South Africa, cheetahs of France, jaguars of England.
Refs – –
Brakefield, T. 1993. Big Cats: Kingdom of Might. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, MN.
Currier, M. J. P. 1983. Felis concolor. Mammalian Species 200, 1-7.
Gay, S. W. & Best, T. L. 1996. Relationships between abiotic variable and geographical variation in skulls of pumas (Puma concolor: Mammalia, Felidae) in North and South America. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 117, 259-282.
Guggisberg, C. A. W. 1975. Wild Cats of the World. David & Charles, Newton Abbot, London.
Heist, E. J., Bowles, J. R. & Woolf, A. 2001. Record of a North American cougar (Puma concolor) from southern Illinois. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 94, 227-229.