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NATURAL HISTORY

FLORIDA PANTHER } Puma concolor coryi

FAMILY: Felidae

DESCRIPTION: A type of puma, the Florida panther is generally rust-colored on its back, tawny on its sides, and pale gray underneath. Adult males weigh an average of 116 pounds and females 75 pounds.

HABITAT: Florida panthers are habitat generalists adapted to a hot, wet climate. They inhabit forests, wetlands, and grasslands unlike the habitats of any other existing puma population. They spend the most time in cypress swamps, pinelands, hardwood swamps, and upland hardwood forests.

RANGE: Florida panthers historically ranged throughout much of the eastern United States, from Arkansas and Louisiana across Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and parts of South Carolina and Tennessee. Today, the panther’s only known reproducing population lives on about 3,548 square miles in the Everglades region in south Florida.

MIGRATION: Florida panthers are nonmigratory but they do engage in dispersal, the process by which juvenile panthers leave their mothers and establish home ranges of their own. Male panthers travel an average of 25 miles in dispersal, with the maximum known dispersal distance measuring 139.3 miles (with a 145-mile secondary dispersal). Females disperse shorter distances, settling closer to their birth range. The dispersal process is essential to Florida panther reproduction, population growth, and range expansion, and it is thwarted by insufficient habitat availability.

BREEDING: Florida panthers can reproduce throughout the year but most often breed from December to March, bearing two or three kittens between March and June. Male panthers have multiple female mates, maintaining large, overlapping home ranges containing several adult females and their dependent offspring. Courtship and breeding can last from one to seven days.

LIFE CYCLE: Florida panthers generally live between eight and 15 years in the wild.

FEEDING: These felines primarily feed on white-tailed deer and feral hogs, occasionally eating raccoons, armadillos, rabbits, and even alligators.

THREATS: The worst threats to the Florida panther are habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation, and associated human disturbances. Habitat loss and fragmentation raise the risk of disease, facilitate deaths by vehicle collision, and foster often-fatal aggression between male panthers who don’t have enough room to adequately establish separate home ranges.

POPULATION TREND: Genetic analysis suggests that the Florida panther population declined dramatically in the middle of the 20th century from a relatively high level in the 1890s. Estimates put past panther numbers at as low as six animals, perhaps around 1970, when the cats were believed to be extinct and before field surveys revealed a population of 20 to 30 animals. Since then, the population has slowly increased and is now believed to hover at around 100 to 120 animals.

 

Florida panther photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service