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Florida Panther

Florida Panther

Puma concolor coryi

Status: Endangered

Classification: Mammal

Description

Florida panthers are a subspecies of the mountain lion. They are large, tan cats—their bodies are mainly covered in tawny-beige fur, except for the whitish-gray belly and chest. Black markings decorate the tip of the tail, ears, and around the snout.

The main way to tell a Florida panther from other subspecies of mountain lion is by looking at the tail and back. Florida panthers have a crooked tail and a unique patch of fur on the back. The back fur is almost like a cowlick, not conforming to the rest of the panther’s fur. Florida panthers are about six to seven feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) long, with males growing bigger than females.

Range

The historic range of the Florida panther extended from Florida to Louisiana throughout the Gulf Coast states and Arkansas. Today the only place with wild Florida panthers is the southwestern tip of Florida. Florida panthers utilize a diversity of warm climate habitat, living in wetlands, swamps, upland forests, and stands of saw palmetto.

Diet

Florida panthers are carnivores. They are skilled at hunting white-tailed deer, feral hogs, raccoons, and other medium-sized mammals and reptiles. Florida panthers also stalk birds.

Life History

Florida panthers are territorial and solitary, unless a pair is mating or a female is raising cubs. They use pheromones and physical signs (like claw markings or feces) to define their territory. Males roam much larger territories than the females. A male can make a territory more than 200 to 250 square miles in size.

In the mating season of November to March, males venture out to find a female mate. After they breed, the female is pregnant for about three months. She gives birth to a litter of one to three kittens. Not all kittens will survive into adulthood.

At birth, the kittens are born covered in dark spots. The spots help camouflage the kittens under forest debris. The kittens are vulnerable to predators, especially right after birth when they are blind. As they develop, the spots fade away and they look more and more like adult panthers. The kittens stay with their mother for about a year and a half before they leave to form their own territories. Florida panthers live about 12 years in the wild, but with such a small population of Florida panthers left, they are very susceptible to disease, genetic disorders, and car accidents.

Conservation

The Florida panther is the only subspecies of mountain lion that remains in the eastern United States. Hunting decimated the population badly, and it was one of the first species added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1973. The Florida panther's current status is listed as endangered.

Today there are only 120 to 130 Florida panthers left in the wild. They are found in southern Florida in swamplands such as Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. The subspecies is so critically endangered that it is vulnerable to just about every major threat. Because the population is so small, low genetic diversity is a concern. In addition, construction causes habitat loss, and roads and highways pose a danger to panthers attempting to cross. The cats are also faced with mercury pollution and diseases such as feline leukemia. A general fear and misunderstanding of Florida panthers prevents reintroductions to new areas.

Fun Fact

Not all large cats roar—in fact, Florida panthers can’t roar at all. They purr, hiss, snarl, growl, and yowl to communicate.

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