Super-size cougars

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 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.


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Wow Ive always thought of them as the america equvilent tot a lynx - I can see why there referd to as mountain LIONs now.

Ive never understood the whole "oh look its a special/interesting/record breaking animal - lets kill it and take it as a trophy" attitude. Mind you when the lady killed a white stag a little while ago, even the hunting community were outraged (she of course didnt care, "cos its a free country")

I find mountain lions fascinating because they often coexist with humans so successfully. For example, they're all over the place in the rural hills that surround Silicon Valley, hills that have swaths of protected open space interspersed with enclaves of (usually) large houses on large lots. Their favorite prey, deer, are very common, and the tall golden grasses and open oak woodlands make for ideal places to hide large tawny feline bodies. Signs warning about the cats are ubiquitous in the many public "wildland" parks, and occasionally a mountain lion sighting causes a popular park to close for a day or two. Still, almost nobody ever sees one; the closest most of us come is the odd paw print on a hiking trail or in the garden of a rural house that's waaayyy too big for anything else. (There are no bears in the region, and canines -- even very large dogs, to say nothing of indigenous coyotes -- have much smaller feet.)

The other fascinating thing about mountain lions is that they tend to have personalities very similar to domestic housecats, and I've seen Discovery Channel shows and read books documenting humans and (fixed) mountain lions living companionably together. Notably, none of these sources have shown or described the furniture, carpets, or window coverings in the abodes of these families. (I observe this as a veteran of shredded sofas, ripped drapes, and peed-on rugs. Living with felines -- even the small domestic sort -- is not for the stylistically inclined.)

Still, mountain lions are very cool! My husband and I plan on building a small house on a rural property in the eastern Sierra Nevada, to vacation in and eventually to retire in. I have a habit of feeding stray cats, and he's already made me promise that I won't do that in mountain lion country. He has visions of a mountain lion shredding the screen door, impatient for its bowl of cat food. :-)

Cool creatures!


I'm only showing here the one photo where there's no doubt about the scale of the animal

But if the sizes of pumas are variable, so too are those of humans. How tall is the guy holding the puma?

Enough parents in the White Mountains of New Hampshire seem to be in the habit of letting their kids hike ahead alone that I wonder how long it'll be before the return immigration of mountain lions results in the disappearance of a child.

From what I've read of mountain lions, they're quite treacherous, lying in wait, attacking from the rear, and going for the neck.

The second photo looks a bit odd,not Photoshopped, but notice how the guy is covered in snow...but the lion only has snow on it's paws. Just wondering it it was really a dead animal..but it does look like there is blood on the ground. Poor thing. I agree, it's a shame when someone decides to show their appreciation for a beatiful animal by killing it.

A friend's mother runs a wildlife rehab/zoo/park here in Pennsylvania, and they have two mountain lions on site. A male and female. The female is about average, but the male is ENORMOUS. As far as I know, they are fixed, so as with domestic felines, maybe that helped contribute to the size?

Aaaand Karen, feeding ANY wild animal is asking for trouble. Even indirectly. The animal becomes dependant on that food, looses it's healthy fear/distrust of humanity, and then winds up in a situation that is dangerous to both the animal and the people involved. Anyone who obviously loves animals would not want to see such a beautiful one come to harm...which is what would happen. Most municipalities will try to relocate a "problem" animal, but unfortunately it often comes down to destroying them. Not to mention what a hungry cat of that size might do to any domestic pets...or children...that cross it's path.

Dartian writes...

But if the sizes of pumas are variable, so too are those of humans. How tall is the guy holding the puma?

I've been unable to find a height for the hunter (Tim Gazankas) but it turns out that the cat was killed near Drayton Valley, Alberta. That information comes from here, and additional images of the specimen are here.

One of the best features of the Sonora Desert Museum outside Tucson is the cougar enclosure. There's one-way glass behind the cougar den area, and you can see them fairly up close and personal.

They really are cats; they're the largest of the "small" cats characterized by pointed ears and slit irises. And they look quite a lot like F. domesticus when they lie on their backs with their paws in the air, asleep.

I love cougars, I really do.

Ive read that the reason we dont realize how big mountain lions can get is because males have huge home ranges that arent conducive to nature films. Consequently, we mostly see the smaller females.

That animal has to be at least twice the size as the one roaming our neighborhood which makes prints about the same size and depth as my 110 pound anatolian. Someone in NY caught it on camera standing just outside his screen door and I had the tracks right up to my front door in PA (both in the Binghamton area). But the coat has a more grayish hue (could be the camera or lighting).

That animal has to be at least twice the size as the one roaming our neighborhood which makes prints about the same size and depth as my 110 pound anatolian. Someone in NY caught it on camera standing just outside his screen door and I had the tracks right up to my front door in PA (both in the Binghamton area). But the coat has a more grayish hue (could be the camera or lighting).

Seabold: I don't find the snow distribution odd. He had to get on his knees to get under to lift it, and must be showing us the side that was not lying on the snow.

I feel obliged to add that Matt Wedel is also an impressively large specimen, of his own species.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

Several friends of mine in central and southern IN are convinced that we have pumas around here, from pawmarkings and from one hearing one. The gentleman who heard it had grown up in rural Colorado and said that there is nothing in the world that sounds like.

There are certainly enough deer in the area to support it.

By Alexandra Lynch (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

From the looks of that map it appears they are migrating east. IIRC coyotes are as well, and they're getting bigger. Might there be a connection?

I feel obliged to add that Matt Wedel is also an impressively large specimen, of his own species.

Is this about my weight?

Anyway, now that you've brought me up, I don't feel bad pointing out that I too have blogged about mountain lions--in Oklahoma.

Long live the elusive, canny cougars! May they continue to slink unseen through the green cracks of our increasingly anthropogenic world, keeping the deer fit and making the world just slightly less padded, comfy, and safe, and a hell of a lot more awesome. I can only hope that in the absence of wolves and Panthera (with whom they coexisted in the Pleistocene) they evolve into Siberian-tiger-sized superpredators and start eating white supremacists, library censors, and school boards wholesale.

"From what I've read of mountain lions, they're quite treacherous, "

Is that really a description that one can apply to an animal..?

I saw a cougar run across the road spring 07 in northern California. I always thought of them as being smallish, but that thing seemed almost lion-sized. I was amazed.

So, even if the biggest records may be questionable, they definitely get significantly over 100 kg? That is *very* impressive. I wonder why they are (comparatively) nonaggressive toward humans, when the often smaller leopard has been proved to be an effective predator of mankind. Is it because the leopard evolved alongside man and other primates?

>>(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?).

Probably never. I remember being taught as a kid to hold the fish out in front so it was closer to the camera :)

By William Miller (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

William: The reason for the difference between Leopards and Cougars is that Leopards have long adapted to hunting baboons, which unfortunately bear a close resemblance to humans. The leopard's manner of attack is specialized for an upright prey (it grabs the head in its jaws and disembowels the prey with its back claws). That's why they are so dangerous to humans -- once they grab on, they are likely to inflict a fatal wound right away. Cougar's hunt by lying in wait along game trails for deer and other mid-large size prey and leaping on their backs where they are protected from flying hooves, and can get a grasp of the neck. I have read that most cougar attacks are of joggers in the suburbs who are running through a park early in the morning and the cougar drops on their back thinking they are a deer. It isn't "treacherous", it is effective!

I know they are only supposed to be out west, but I think everyone in Vermont is convinced that there are still a few left in the Green Mountains. I've met people up there who are old enough to remember hunting the famous 'catamount' (now they just drink the beer of that name).

By automandc (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

I spend a lot of time in the woods in northern Arizona and I have found two juvenile mtn. lions deceased of natural causes, and seen fresh tracks in mud and snow, but never seen a live animal. There have been a few cases in AZ of kids being attacked-the sound of kids playing can be very similar to the sound of an elk calf in distress at a distance-I have been fooled before and I think the high pitch of childrens voices may attract a hungry lion. The Az Game and Fish dept. reccomends keeping children close in lion country. Attacks are very rare considering the number of people in the state, but they do happen.

By DVMKurmes (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

Oh yes, the cat of one color but many, many names... I once read a claim that Puma concolor has more local names than any other animal. Besides the ones you listed, Darren, I've seen mountain screamer, swamp screamer (for the Florida variety), devil cat, ghost cat, and American lion. That's just in English -- there are many more in Spanish, probably some in Portuguese, and at least one for every Amerind tribe that ever had contact with them. I've never found a better example of the need for scientific names.

Sizewise they seem to vary much the same way wolves do: different populations have different average sizes, and a small animal in one population might be a giant in another. However, 100+kg is a giant in any cougar population!

There have also been one or two reports of cougars in New Hampshire. None confirmed, however I wouldn't be surprised to find they're true.

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

Matt: Is this about my weight? Since you mentioned awesomeness, I will say that this is really all about awesomeness.

Speaking of awesomeness, how do we go about petitioning David Attenborough to give Darren his imprimatur as his successor, should he ever retire? Darren could start a whole new "Death of X" series -- Death of Birds, Death of Mammals, Death in the Undergrowth, etc., followed by series Young of X, Migration of X, Descent of X, ad astra.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

"Oh yes, the cat of one color but many, many names..."

Two remarks. I am sure I read somewhere (but can't remember where) that one name once given to them in the region that is now the southwestern USA was "amigo del cristiano": this was before residents of the outer suburbs took up jogging, and it was believed that the cats never attacked white men.

Second: In Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State university are traditional rivals in intercollegiate football. Their teams are called, repsectively, the "Pitt Panthers" and the "Nittany Lions." sometimes it's convenient to have more than one name for your region's charismatic predator!

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 06 Nov 2008 #permalink

"how do we go about petitioning David Attenborough to give Darren his imprimatur as his successor"

YES! I agree! Unless Mr. Naish stutters in real life, he would be equal to Sir David A. BTW, he would pay his worth even if BBC paid him a logopedist.

I especially would like to see BBC team from Planet Earth deployed worldwide to document animals hunting people. Some waiting on the riverside in Uganda to get flawless footage of Gustave the Nile crocodile catching a washerwoman, getting small cameras to forest workers in Sundarabas to film tiger hunting in close-up, infrared footage of lions in Kruger catching illegal immigrants... This type of things.

@William Miller

Leopards do live in suburban outskirts of India (including city parks of Mumbai) like cougars in California.

Thanks for clearing up the snow issue, and now that I think about it, I guess snow doesnt' stick too well to the fur when the animal is alive, huh? ;) I was just wondering if the larger size may have been attributed to a "tame" animal and the gentelman in the photo wasn't just having some fun with his feline friend.

Two summers ago, I was at a forest fire up in Idaho, just north of McCall. The roadblock (keeping civilians out of a very popular hot spring area (which made me real popular)) was at a 6,000 foot pass (1,900 metres for the rational world) and I arrved at about 7:00am. Three different mornings, I spotted a mountain lion sunning on a rock about 2,500 feet away. Unfortunately, my camera has a lousy telephoto so no photo.

As I work fires, I am careful about black bears, but no big deal. Grizzlies are another matter. I am very, very careful in Grizz country. Mountain lions, though, are the only animal that really worries me, especially when working early morning and dusk shifts. They really do see humans as cheap calories.

I have seen some big ones over the years, but that is relative, not exact, size. Any animal above a certain size can look unusually big, especially when it is carnivorous.

Great pics. Too bad it's dead :(

I have seen one from about 10 feet away - impressive creatures. It strolled up, drank from the other side of the creek I was resting by, and strolled away.

The cougar that was shot in Chicago this summer was probably not the only one thye had. The green belts are loaded with deer and cover for the lions.

By Tsu Dho Nimh (not verified) on 07 Nov 2008 #permalink


Cougars can be greyish. They're more commonly tawny, but some of them do have a distinctly grey cast. (I've heard that this is more common at the edges of their range, but I don't know this for sure.)

Only time I ever saw a cougar in the wild, in Colorado, it looked like a young male going through his "aerial phase" -- adolescent cougars figure out how well they can jump and then spend a while trying never to touch the ground. This fellow was making his way through a stand of pine trees one evening, looking like he was playing "hot lava" -- you know the one kids play, where you go across a room from one piece of furniture to the next because the floor is "lava" and you'll die if you touch it? This guy had the same sort of self-absorbed concentration of "I'm doing this because I can", and I have to say, it did look like he was having fun. I just stayed quiet and got a real kick out of it.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 08 Nov 2008 #permalink

And, I'll second the message to Karen: Please, PLEASE don't try to get any cougar accustomed to humans as a source of food. That's not asking for trouble, that's stalking trouble with a handful of engraved invitations. It will end up with a human dead or badly hurt, and the cougar shot. That's what happens when cougars and humans get _too_ close on a regular basis. They are wild animals, predators, and humans are still made of meat.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 08 Nov 2008 #permalink

Thanks, I was not aware of that.

Warren: Are you sure that's one way glass at the cliffside ledge? I visited the Sonora museum a few years ago and got a real up close and personal look at one of the cougars. I assumed that the window was transparent in both directions because the cat was looking straight at me and had a rather annoyed expression on its face. It was rather disconcerting to walk around a corner and see that.

Occasionally someone reports a cougar sighting in SE PA where I live, but the pix and vids are so fuzzy as to be inconclusive at best. The Fish and Wildlife Service doubts there are any native cougars in the area (they say the last known one was shot in the 1860s) and speculates that they may be escaped "pets" or the result of misjudgment of the animals' size when seen from a distance.

@ Inquisitive Raven: One-way glass (typically half-silvered) isn't quite as one-way as most people think. If the light levels are similar on both sides, anything behind the glass can be seen from the front. In addition, the animals' hearing is usually acute enough to let them know something's going on back there.

BTW, is it true that cougars are the only known predators of :-)

By Mad Hussein LO… (not verified) on 09 Nov 2008 #permalink

Ive always thought of them as the america equvilent tot a lynx - I can see why there referd to as mountain LIONs now.

the American equivalent to the lynx is actually two animals. the northern reaches of the continent have the Canadian Lynx, while the USA is host to the Bobcat.

there's no real European equivalent to the Cougar, which is equal parts shame and relief. even the small specimens i've seen in zoos were quite impressive animals indeed.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 09 Nov 2008 #permalink

oh, yes, and there are persistent rumours of cougars in Michigan, where i live. the state DNR keeps claiming there aren't any, but sportsmen occasionally beg to differ. if there are some they are likely transients, not an established population (yet), but stranger things have happened in the up-north woods.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 09 Nov 2008 #permalink

I assumed that the window was transparent in both directions because the cat was looking straight at me and had a rather annoyed expression on its face.

Could it just have been contemplating its mirror image?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 10 Nov 2008 #permalink


Could it just have been contemplating its mirror image?

Unlikely, I would say. I've sometimes introduced presumably mirror-naive cats to mirrors; in most cases the initial reaction is startlement, then curiosity (the cat tries to look behind the mirror for the other cat), and after that, complete indifference. That captive puma would in all probability be so throughly habituated to any reflective surfaces in its environment that it would no longer pay them any attention at all.

There've been several recent sightings of a cougar in Saanich, which is part of greater Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. (Vancouver Island is the cougar attack capital of the world by far, BTW.) In the early 1990s there was a cougar in downtown Victoria, seen strolling through Beacon Hill Park and later caught in the parking garage of the Empress Hotel right in the middle of town by the harbor.

I have read that most cougar attacks are of joggers in the suburbs who are running through a park early in the morning and the cougar drops on their back thinking they are a deer. It isn't "treacherous", it is effective!

Actually most cougar attacks are on children. The attacks I've read about in SoCal have been on joggers or bikers (in the San Bernadino Forest) but elsewhere that's not the most common situation. At any rate, they are rare. As I mentioned before, Vancouver Island is compartively rife with cougar attacks, but we're talking about maybe 20 or so over the past 100 years (still by far the majority of attacks in BC -- 20 out of 30 -- and these attacks are more common in BC than elsewhere). Five deaths, four on the island. As the BC tourism sites point out bees kill about 3 Canadians a year, which puts them way out front of cougars.

The "purple feather" appellation MIGHT be related to an old story that Nevada had purple panthers. The famed hunter "Grizzly" Adams made a foray into Nevada once and was disappointed that the panthers he shot showed no sign of being purple. (He also got his pet grizzly torn up by a female jaguar he was trying to kill.)

By Matt Bille (not verified) on 03 Dec 2008 #permalink

Some of the confusion on locations in different stories may show up here - unless I'm reading this wrong, the Arizona puma is described as being from Arkansas later on.

The upstate NY "e-mail cougar" is just one of those don't-trust-e-mail things (I saw it in an e-mail where it was supposed to be in MY part of NY):

no puedo creer que un pare de hijos de puta salgan orguyosos por cazar pumas que pedazos de mierda

By esteban bogota (not verified) on 04 Mar 2009 #permalink

u mean people its so wrong to kill a wild animal and mock it. that animal could have had cubs... you dont know what if that was you going out to hunt for food for your children and you got shot leaving your kids to die. how would you feel then.

By brooke waters (not verified) on 21 Oct 2009 #permalink

brooke, would you please read the post before commenting on it!?! Kthxbai.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 21 Oct 2009 #permalink

Cougars have been reported at various sitings in the eastern upper peninsula of Michigan. On November 4, 2009 the Department of Natural Resources sent out a press release confirming the presence of cougars there. Tracks of the cats have been confirmed & plaster casts were made. Also the terrain location was confirmed of a night vision camera photo of a cougar at a bait pile. For more info contact Contact: DNR biologist Kristie Sitar, 906-293-5131, Debbie Munson Badini, 906-226-1352 or Mary Dettloff 517-335-3014.

By Elizabeth Spri… (not verified) on 07 Nov 2009 #permalink


By CougarLover (not verified) on 10 Jul 2010 #permalink

Qual é a honra em se matar uma animal tão belo?
Quem é o grande estúpido dessa história?
O homem deveria ter VERGONHA de publicar essas fotos.
Lamento que um paÃs que se diz de primeiro mundo, haja pessoas tão estúpidas.
Infelizmente aqui no Brasil como ai tenham pessoas que ainda insistem em serem chamadas de seres humanos.