Tag: panthera

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.

Puma
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

Cats In Games: The Magnificent Jaguars Of ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’

Lara Croft has come a long way since the days when she was the polygonal, hyper-sexualized protagonist of the early Tomb Raider games.

Thanks to a reboot the new Lara is a smart, adventurous and brave young woman voiced and motion-capped by the talented Camilla Luddington, and she’s never felt more real. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara ventures to the Peruvian jungle to chase down Mayan artifacts, and among the many obstacles in her way are jaguars.

Gorgeous, magnificent, regal jaguars who seemingly manifest out of the mist and blend back into the green inferno at will.

Here’s our new Lara, now starring in her third game:

The new Lara Croft
The new Lara Croft is a fearless adventurer and archaeological expert who travels the world unearthing clues to humanity’s past.

Like previous games, her adventures revolve around archaeological digs, ancient tombs and uncovering the history of humanity one find at a time. What would a Tomb Raider adventure be without a bit of danger?

Lara Croft
Lara crosses an underground chasm in search of a Mayan relic.

After an opening sequence, Lara and her friend Jonah head deep into the Peruvian jungle. This being Tomb Raider, they can’t land like normal people — a powerful storm sweeps in, sending their plane crashing into uncharted territory.

Lara finds herself alone, lost in the jungle without her gear. The sounds of the jungle reach a fever peach, with birds fleeing branches and monkeys howling, heralding the arrival of the apex predator of the Americas: Panthera onca, the jaguar, a name that translates to “He who kills with one bound.”

Jaguar of the Tomb Raider
“Hey there, could you tell me how to get to Lima?”

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Okay, stay calm! Remember your training! You’re face to face with an apex predator with the strongest bite force of any animal, but you can do this!

Besides, it can’t get any worse at this point.

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Can it?

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Oh shit. Even the monkeys are like “Dayum! Grab the popcorn!”

Don’t panic! Maybe these jaguars are just saying hello!

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Or maybe not.

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What’s worth noting is that these are not cut scenes — what you see here are screenshots within the game engine. For people who aren’t familiar with video games, that means you’re looking at the game itself. This is what the gameplay looks like.

We have come a long, long way from this, haven’t we?

Old Tomb Raider
The low-texture, low-polygon world of the original Tomb Raider games.

It’s a difference allowed by several generations’ worth of improved computer hardware and software, resulting in billions of additional polygons, millions of additional colors, improved lighting, physics, art assets, high definition textures, motion capture technology and all the little things that fuel progress from a world made from flat, blurry environments and cartoonish characters to a hyper-realistic, almost photo-quality world which makes incredible immersion possible.

Most of our readers may not be gamers, but for those who are, I’ll avoid spoilers here even though Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a 2018 release.

Suffice to say jaguars play a prominent role in the game and serve as the Big Bads, the game’s ultimate threat made even more terrifying by the knowledge that they can appear at any time and ambush our hero before she’s even aware of their presence.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a fantastic job of immersion, making all of the dangers of the jungle feel real through meticulously crafted visuals and sound, and a compelling story. And like everything else in life, it’s better with cats!

Amazing Cats: The Puma

What would domestic cats be like if they were the same size as big cats?

It’s a question that seems to pop up often on cat-centric and Q&A sites and the answer is complex, but it turns out nature has given us a pretty good idea with the puma.

Also known as the cougar, mountain lion and the more generic panther (which can be a name for jaguars and leopards as well), the puma is big, but genetically it’s related to small cats and it shares some physical features with our familiar domestic kitties.

It’s capable of the intimidating wild cat scream often heard from the largest felines, but the puma can’t roar like big cats. Instead, it purrs like its smaller relatives, and it can even meow with the best of them!

Visually, the puma is a striking animal — it’s muscular with a shiny tan coat and facial features reminiscent of both panthera and felis. While its ears more closely resemble those of small cats (felis), the puma’s eyes have circular irises like its larger cousins.

The Majestic Puma
Pumas, also known as mountain lions and cougars, are the widest-ranging cats in the world.

It’s also remarkably adaptive. The puma boasts the largest range of any cat, and is found all throughout South and North America. Here in good ol’ ‘Merica, the cat ranges from the coastal mountains of California to the forests of New England, and a subspecies — the famous Florida Panther — occupies swampland and dense jungle habitats.

After the jaguar, it’s the second-largest cat in the Western Hemisphere.

The puma is a wild animal, meaning its place is out in the world fending for itself, protecting its territory, hunting, mating, grooming and sleeping a lot, like all cats do. Pumas are emphatically not pets.

Yet pumas have a disposition closer to house cats than big cats, meaning they’re not hostile to humans by default, and much like feral cats, they’ll go out of their way to avoid humans.

Again — and it cannot be emphasized enough — pumas are wild animals who belong in the wild, but there have been rare cases where the big-little cats have lived with humans when circumstances make it impossible to return them to their natural habitat.

In some cases it’s because the puma is maimed and can no longer hunt for itself, while others remain under human care because they were born into zoos or circuses and literally do not know how to live like wild cats. Those animals are better off in sanctuaries than left to fend for themselves, which they’re unable to do, but should only be cared for by professionals.

Puma leaping
While they aren’t hostile to humans by default, pumas can tip the scales at 220 pounds and are capable of rendering serious damage.

While pumas don’t have any interest in hunting or harming humans, that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. Males can tip the scales at up to 220 pounds, while females can weigh as much as 140.

That’s a LOT of cat: Most of us know the kind of damage 10-pound domestic felines are capable of rendering, especially with sharp claws and teeth that can shred delicate human skin. A 220-pound puma, while not as lethal as a tiger pushing 600-plus pounds, can fatally injure a human being.

Thankfully, these animals are famously elusive and confrontations with humans are exceedingly rare.

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That’s 10 pounds of pure muscle to you, mister! Everyone knows Buddy is ripped!