puma (pyōˈmə) [key] or cougar kōˈgər, New World member of the cat family, Puma concolor. Also known as mountain lion, catamount, panther, and painter, it ranges from S British Columbia to the southern tip of South America. The puma is slenderly built, with a lionlike face. There is great variation both in size and in color, and pumas at the extremes of their geographic range are much larger than those of the tropics. Adult males of the cooler regions average about 7 ft (2.1 m) in length, including the 30-in. (76-cm) tail, and about 28 in. (71 cm) in shoulder height; they weigh up to 175 lb (80 kg). Females are smaller. The fur is yellow-brown, red-brown, or gray; the puma is distinguished from the other large New World cat, the jaguar, by its lack of spots.
Pumas are found in almost every type of country, including mountain tops, grasslands, deserts, and temperate and tropical forests. They are solitary hunters, preying on animals up to the size of deer. Some individuals prey on livestock, and farmers have waged extensive war on the species, which is nonetheless still numerous in Central and South America. In North America it had largely disappeared from the eastern two thirds of the continent by 1950, except for some survivors in Florida. Since then, however, there has been expansion of its range, especially in the central United States W of the Mississippi; there have been occasional confirmed pumas in New England since the mid-1990s. Some of the individuals spotted in the East, however, have been pets that were released. Pumas avoid contact with humans and rarely attack them.
Pumas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Felidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.