Tag: jaguar

What’s The Difference Between A Puma, Mountain Lion, Cougar, Panther and Catamount?

The puma goes by a lot of names. So many, in fact, that it holds the Guinness world record for the mammal with the most names, with more than 40 monikers in English alone.

Add the puma’s various appellations in Spanish and the indigenous tongues of south north America, and the large golden cat has probably had at least 100 names by a conservative estimate.

Cougar, panther, mountain lion, catamount, Florida panther, Carolina panther, ghost cat, gato monte, cuguacuarana, painter, screamer — they’re all names for puma concolor, a felid with the size of big cats in the panthera genus but genetics more closely related to non-roaring “small” cats, including felis catus.

Indeed, although pumas are famously capable of the wild cat “scream,” they’re able to purr just like house cats and their small- to medium-size wild relatives.

Why does the puma have so many monikers?

Mostly it’s because the adaptable, elusive feline has a vast range that historically covered almost the entirety of two continents:

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even today cougars exist in healthy numbers across most of South America and the western United States. They’re wanderers, with pockets of smaller populations in places like Florida and the midwest, and individual mountain lions have been spotted as far east as New York and Connecticut. (The New York region known as the Catskills, derived from “cat creek” in Dutch, was named after pumas when the area was part of their regular range.)

Throughout their history they’ve been familiar to a diverse group of human civilizations, societies, nations and peoples, from the Aztecs, Inca and Mayans, to the indigenous tribes of North America and the First Nations of Canada, to the inhabitants of modern-day countries like the US, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

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A puma with her cubs. Credit: Nicolas Lagos

But the name confusion doesn’t just stem from the puma’s many monikers bestowed by people of different cultures across space and time. The puma is also one of three cat species that are regularly called panthers. The other two, jaguars (panthera onca) and leopards (panthera pardus), are true “big cats.” That means they’re members of the genus panthera and they can roar but not purr.

Pumas are easily distinguishable from the other two: They have smooth golden fur without adornments, while jaguars and leopards both have blotches called rosettes.

It’s difficult to tell jaguars from leopards, but the biggest giveaway is the fact that jaguars have solid dot-like markings within their rosettes while leopards do not. In addition, leopards have much longer tails than jaguars or pumas, as they need the counterbalance provided by their tails to help them climb trees and balance themselves on tree limbs.

Jaguars are excellent climbers as well, but they don’t need to be as adept at living off the ground — they are the apex predators in the Americas, while leopards coexist with lions and other large animals like Cape buffalo that present a danger to the big cats even if they’re not predators.

Which brings us to our last point: Our many-named friends, the pumas, may be big and they may look dangerous, but they’re not. There have been 27 humans killed by the elusive cats in more than a century in the U.S., according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, compared to about 3,000 deaths from dog bites over the same period. Between 30 and 50 people are killed by dogs each year.

Most confrontations between humans and pumas happen when the latter are threatened and cannot escape, or when a female is protecting her cubs.

So if you live in an area where you have a chance to see these beautiful cats, admire them and keep your own kitties indoors, but don’t freak out — the puma you see one second will be gone the next.

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A captive puma. Credit: Pexels.com

What’s The Real Reason Cats Love Boxes?

Buddy is not overly obsessed with boxes.

I think that’s because he feels safe here, he’s got plenty of places to hide if he wants, and he’s got a big cat tunnel with four ways in or out. He doesn’t need another little space to crawl into.

Still, like any cat, the little dude likes a good box. When he gets to play with a new box he likes to sniff it, rub against it once or twice, then jump inside and determine if it’s comfortable. Then he gets serious, looks around, and slowly sinks down below the top of the box…

…and remains there for a few seconds before cautiously raising his head and looking around. Usually this is accompanied by a delighted trill, and I get the strong sense that he thinks he’s invisible to anyone outside the box while he has the advantage of seeing them.

“You cannot see Buddy, but Buddy sees you!”

Does he ambush me from the box? Does a bear crap in the woods?

There isn’t an abundance of research into why cats love boxes so much, but the existing data combined with what we know about the feline mind strongly suggests that, first and foremost, boxes have a strong psychological effect. They make cats feel secure and well-protected.

Anyone familiar with cats knows the little furballs like to wedge themselves into hideaways, scurry under tables and hide in laundry baskets. The behavior starts in kittenhood when they’re tiny enough to crawl into shoes and sneakers.

In 2021, animal cognition grad student Gabriella Smith conducted a study in which she found cats will happily sit in Kanizsa contours with the same enthusiasm they have for boxes.

Kanizsa contours are two-dimensional. The participants created them by using tape and paper to make the shapes on the floor. They’re not even proper boxes, just the illusory suggestion of boxes or general square shapes. That doesn’t seem to matter to cats:

Of course pieces of tape or paper on the floor do not afford any real protection, so the feline affinity for boxes seems to be more about feeling protected.

Since cats are territorial, it could be that they also like clear boundaries around their personal space.

The key here seems to be having the boundary without blocking access, as cats are notoriously not cool with closed doors or being confined. If they want to spend an hour in a tiny space and it’s their idea, they’re fine with it, but they don’t like to be restricted by when they can come and go.

Notably, this isn’t behavior limited to felis catus. So far there doesn’t seem to be any exception to the box-loving rule among felines and felids of any species. Tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards and pumas seem just as fond of them as their smaller cousins, as you can see in this video from Big Cat Rescue:

Boxes are comforting, cozy, fun to explore and make the perfect hiding spots for ambushes. If you’re a cat big or small, what’s not to like?

Sanctuary Jaguar Gives Birth To Beautiful Melanistic Baby, You Can Help Name Her

The Big Cat Sanctuary of Kent, UK — not to be confused with Florida’s Big Cat Rescue — is welcoming a newborn melanistic jaguar, and everyone from the vet staff to the caretakers are fussing over her.

The as-yet-unnamed baby was born to mom Keira and dad Neron in a big-cat breeding program designed to ensure the species survives as wild populations plummet due to habitat reduction and poaching. Staff at the UK sanctuary say the baby opened her eyes the day she was born and was walking by two weeks. That’s an unusually quick development for most cats, but apparently not for jaguars, who live in the deepest jungles of the Amazon.

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The Big Cat Sanctuary’s newest addition. / Credit: Alma Leaper

The sanctuary is allowing the public to pick the baby’s name from among three choices as part of a fund-raiser.

The choices are Inka (Inca) after the Inca people and their empire, Inti, a Quechuan (pre-modern Peruvian) word meaning “Sunshine,” or Killari, a word from the same language that means “Moonlight.” I’m partial to the latter, especially for the image it evokes of the world’s largest black panther — and the largest cat in the Americas — stalking the jungle on a moon-lit night.

The term “black panther” is a catch-all for any felid with melanism. Both jaguars and leopards can have the black color morph, as can domestic cats. Cats with melanism retain their spots, and if you look closely you can see they’re a shade darker than the rest of the cats’ black fur.

Check out the video below to see the little one behaving just like any other kitten.

Now There’s A Mail-In DNA Test For Cats

Ever wonder about your cat’s parentage, breed and potential health problems? A mail-in DNA test for cats promises to fill you in on the details.

Basepaws, a Los Angeles company, offers a kit not much different from the human mail-in DNA tests: You swab the inside of your cat’s mouth for a few seconds, secure it according to the provided instructions, and mail it to the company, which processes the results.

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The basepaws kit.

In four to six weeks you’re notified that your cat’s results are ready, and you’ll get a report with a breakdown of genetic identity, associated breeds and potential health issues to watch out for.

This presents a problem for me, of course. Buddy thinks he’s descended from a long line of legendary warrior felids. I took a regular Q-tip, made a big show of swabbing his cheek for his DNA, and told him I was mailing it away for analysis.

Then I cooked this up:

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Buddy’s fake results.

You’ll notice the results don’t come close to adding up to 100 percent. The company’s founder says that’s because the more people test their cats, the more accurate the results will be, with fewer unknowns as the overall database expands.

Each cat’s report is updated indefinitely as the company continues to test. Checking back over subsequent months and years will yield updated information on your cat, the company says.

All jokes aside, it would be interesting to find out more about the Budster’s background. All I know is that his mom was an indoor cat who wasn’t spayed. She went into heat, she got out, she came back and the rest is history.

Because he’s a big talker, I’ve always wondered if Bud might have a bit of Siamese or one of the other chattier breeds in him. His coat is pretty short, extremely soft and all grey/dark grey in a tabby pattern, except for a single white tuft on his chest.

Interestingly, most of his tabby stripes are unbroken, a trait usually seen in hybrid cats.

He’s comically incapable of certain things, but almost frighteningly intelligent in other respects, and he wears his emotions on his sleeve…er, paw? Maybe there really are secrets to unlock in his DNA.

Cat DNA analysis is in its infancy

On the downside, Basepaws DNA tests don’t come cheap — with two packages priced at $129 and $99 — and, as a review in Wired notes, cat ancestry reports are always going to be more vague than reports on human or dog DNA.

That’s because the practice of dog breeding is a lot older and more common than creating pedigree cat lines, and most cats are not a specific breed. Unlike dogs — whose roles range from hunting and shepherding to assisting the blind and pulling sleds — cats have always had one job, and occasionally two. Kill rodents and snuggle with their humans, cuddly killers that they are.

Historically humans haven’t felt a compelling need to interfere with cat procreation. The last century or so has been an exception, but breeds still represent a small minority of cats.

If you’ve had your cat’s DNA analyzed, we’d love to hear from you about your experience.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to tell a certain Tiger-Manticore-Jaguar about his impressive felid lineage.

‘Social Influencer’ Thinks He Saw A Panther…In New Zealand

A New Zealand man says he filmed a “panther” after taking blurry footage of a house cat.

Kyle Mulinder does his best Steve Irwin impression with a breathless “Look at that thing! Amazing!” while zooming in on what looks an awful lot like a domestic cat.

Mulinder continues to provide commentary and generously estimates the cat at “four foot high” as it dashes off a dirt road into a wooded area in New Zealand’s Hanmer Springs Heritage Forest.

Here’s a screenshot of the cat. I wasn’t able to embed the video, so you’ll have to visit the New Zealand Herald to watch it.

Screenshot_2020-11-30 Canterbury mystery Is it a cat or is it a panther - NZ Herald

A handful of New Zealanders have said they’ve seen a large cat since at least this summer, long enough for the local press to dub the cat the Canterbury Panther. Various reports identify the cat as grey, tawny or black.

Mulinder, who calls himself Bare Kiwi online, demonstrated a flair for the dramatic while telling his tale to the Herald.

“It was about 50 metres away, strolling in the other direction but it sat down, turned and looked into my soul,” Mulinder said. “It was a very emotional experience. I was fearing for my life.”

(Insert terrifying Buddy joke here.)

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Yolanda van Heezik, a zoologist at New Zealand’s Otago University, said the chances of a big cat on the loose are “extremely unlikely.”

Aside from the lack of convincing footage of the Canterbury Panther, there aren’t any obvious signs of a mountain lion, jaguar or leopard, van Heezik said. Those signs could include scratches from large claws high up in trees, widespread scent-marking and the trail of prey that would be left by a large carnivore.

“No one’s ever caught one, no one’s ever got really good evidence that they are something different from just a large feral cat,” she said earlier this month. “And there’s also a complete lack of evidence that is indirect like if you had a really big cat like that you would expect there to be more stock kills, for example, but we don’t really have that evidence either.”

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Aside from the cat’s small size, there are other obvious reasons why it’s unlikely to be a panther. The word panther can refer to a cougar, also known as a mountain lion or puma. It can also refer to a jaguar or a leopard.

None of those cats are found on New Zealand: Pumas and jaguars are native to the Americas, while leopards exist in Africa and parts of Asia.

Of course it’s possible someone purchased a big cat from the illegal wildlife market and the animal escaped or was let go, but those cases are rare and big cats tend to be the “toys” of the ultra-wealthy. Local authorities have ruled out the possibility of a large cat escaping from any nearby zoo or wildlife facility, according to the Herald.