Meghan Rosen from the Santa Cruz Sentinel and UCSC’s science communication program was nice and interested enough to write an article in the newspaper about my upcoming assignment to photograph the critically endangered Arabian Leopard in Yemen. Not only did she ask great question — our interview/conversation lasted about an hour and a half — but she also wrote a great and factual article. If you are interested in reading it, here is a direct link.
Like most other felines, pumas live a rather solitary life. The only prolonged periods of time multiple animals spend time together is the 15 month period (on average) cubs spend with their mother.Though undoubtedly there are instances where cougars run into each other (like at a kill, for example when these two females with cubs met) but those encounters seem to be avoided by communication through various olfactory, visual, and auditory signs. Those same signs however can also be clues left by a female to signal a male she is sexually receptive. Researchers believe that urine marks and vocalizing are the primary ways a female advertises her ‘availability’. This vocalization is what is referred to as caterwauling and it is quite an impressive sound. Have a listen:
That would get my attention as well, though I wouldn’t want to necessarily go towards the sound.
Female mountain lions have an estrus of four to twelve days with an average of seven to eight days (data from captive studies). This is a rather short period of time for a male to find a female when you occupy as large of home ranges as they do, so it makes sense to create an obvious ‘hey, I am right here!’ kind of signal. Once they do find each other a breeding pair will stay together for one to sixteen days with one to four days being most typical. After the business is done the male will leave again (I know, I know, typical male behavior….).
So, is this meet up of two mountain lions a mating pair in the pictures below. The mountain lion front and center is our resident female, Artemis (named so after the Greek goddess of the hunt, based on her forehead mark resembling Artemis’s bow — can you tell my girlfriend came up with that one??) but if you look carefully on the right there is another puma, a rather large puma, sitting off to the side.
Is it a male? What do you think? If it is indeed a male and breeding was successful then we may have kittens starting around about October 15th of this year….time will tell!
Ross, P.I. and M.G. Jalkotzy. 1992. Characteristics of a hunted population of cougars in southwestern Alberta. Journal of Wildlife Managment. 56:417-426
Mehrer, C.F. 1975. Some aspects of reproduction in captive mountain lions Felis concolor, bobcats Lynx rufus, and lynx Lynx canadensis. Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Dakote, Grand Forks.
Rabb, G.B. 1959. Reproductive and vocal behavior in captive mountain lions.
Seidensticker, J.C., M.G. Hornocker, W.V. Wiles, and J.P. Messick. 1973. Mountain Lion social organization in the Idaho Primitive Area. Wildlife Monogram 35: 1-60
Audio Courtesy of Felidae Conservation Fund.
This is one of those cases where I realize how little I know and how little experience I have in regards to Mountain Lions. I am sure an experienced puma biologists could look at the picture below and say, duh, that’s a male, or duh, that’s a female…well even after doing some more research I once again have no clue.
From Ken Logan and Linda Sweanor’s 2001 “Determining the Sex of Treed Cougars“:
“Male adult and subadult cats have a conspicuous black spot of hair, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter surrounding the opening to the penis sheath behind the hind legs and about 4 inches (10 cm) below the anus. The anus is usually hidden by the base of the tail. In between the anus and black spot is the scrotum, which is covered with light to dark brown hair and will usually appear as another dark spot.”
“Female adult and subadult cats do not have this conspicuous black spot of hair. The area is entirely covered in white hair. The anus is directly below the base of the tail and the vulva is directly underneath the anus. Both the anus and the vulva will usually be hidden by the base of the tail.”
So my guess would be female, but then there is that little amount of dark hair just to the left of the tail, but is that too close to the anus. What do you think?
Note: This image was taken two weeks (almost down to the minute) after the second image from the Aptos Mountain Lion Characters Post
I found this video on youtube recently. Its quite amazing what the guy captured and it provides an interesting example of mountain lion prey selection. Researchers have found that in most cases a mountain lion has to have eaten a prey animal (most likely as a dependent kitten) before they think of it as potential prey (I am assuming this is smell based). This may be like the learning behavior of ‘problem’ black bears which teach their cubs that garbage is a meal leading to human conflict. This cougar had no interest in the sheep (a seemingly much easier meal) but was fixated on the deer way further away. It’s mother had probably never hunted sheep herself therefor this puma didn’t think of them as prey either.
The counter-argument of course is that in some cases mountain lions attack people, something the mother most likely did not do. In twelve of the fifteen cases where cats were killed after attacking humans the cats were underweight or sick so the mountain lions seemed to be desperate.
Note: at the end of the video the guy says “I wonder if I should have shot him” something I strongly disagree with!
As many of you have noticed I am completely and utterly fascinated by mountain lions, pumas, cougars, catamounts, or what ever you like to call them (did the webpage url and logo give that away???). It has always been my fascination getting pictures of them and seeing them in the wild. Though i have been able to get images, I have never seen one in nature (how is that possible you ask — camera traps!).
As anyone with any obsession, I can’t get enough information about them. Absolutely everything interests me about them including home range size, territoriality, density, prey species, den sites, when cubs leave their mother’s home range, and the list just keeps going on. I am telling you this as a forewarning for future posts under the Project Puma heading that will have anything and everything to do with mountain lions whether that is information or pictures just in case there is someone else as interested in this beautiful cat as I am.
This post is also supposed to serve as an introduction to the cat(s) of the area I camera trap in Aptos near Santa Cruz in the Monterey Bay area. As of right now there are two camera traps out there and I have gotten mountain lion pictures on three different occasions. I am not completely sure whether it is the same cat or different cats so I figured I’d ask you guys. Here are the three pictures followed by close-ups in the same order.
Is it all the same cat, I really don’t know. In other cat species researchers use the spotting pattern which is unique to each cat to identify them. For Puma concolor (the scientific name of the mountain lion meaning cat of one color) this isn’t really an option. What I was looking at is the black marking around the mouth, the black whisker markings, and the shape of the ears. Nothing leads me to say that its the same cat or different cats (in the second image, that is a tick in the ear, sadly not something to identify the cat by) — do you see something I am not? One thing for sure is that the second cat is much bulkier than the first, but the images were also captured months apart.
An interesting thing to note are the few faint slightly darker spots on the back leg of the first image, which could give us some clues of its age. Puma kittens are completely spotted loosing these marks as they become older. By ten months, the markings are difficult to see except on the hindquarters. The eyes turn from a light blue as kittens to yellow brown as adults (this change is complete by sixteen months). Young pumas are independent around 15 months (with a range of 10 to 18 months) leaving their mother’s territory and searching for their own. Based on the fact that I had not captured an image of a puma before this individual (for a period of 8 months) and its morphology it leads me to believe that this must be a juvenile looking for its own territory. If the second and third image are of the same cat, then I am glad to know its doing well in its new home!
Photographing wildlife with a camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you rest at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at moments notice but need to also conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench. Finally the biggest challenge of all is that you can’t buy professional camera traps at a store, ready to use out of the box. Even national geographic cameras use customized set-ups.
For inspiration, visit two of my favorite blogs. Chris Wemmer’s blog Camera Trap Codger which is not only filled with witty, educational, and fun writing but also accompanied by great camera trap images; as well as Jake Kirkland and Christian’s Camera Trapping Campus blog, filled with great stories and it hits close to home for me since I also got my degree from UCSC. All of them ‘hack’ much of their equipment to function for the camera trapping needs!
Once you have the equipment figured out the really fun part starts. Its time to hit the field to select your location for your camera trap. Natural game paths are always a perfect option, they provide ample chances for wildlife to walk by. It is necessary to take to appropriate time during the set-up since there can’t be any quick adjustments made once the camera is in place. Using yourself always works:
After you are done setting up you want to leave it be, it will take a while for your smell to be masked by nature’s more natural smells and some time for the animals to get used to the new objects in their environment (don’t think they don’t know its there).
After some time you will get your first shots. In the beginning most likely just your neighbors pet:
Maybe even some behavioral images:
Of course many times you will get another curious human:
but in the end when you get a shot like this, you are quite the happy camper:
When ever you go to check the camera and replace batteries its like Christmas, you don’t know what you will get except a bunch of happy surprises. Camera trapping is a great way to get an intimate view into the lives of animals you may hardly see, something I very much cherish.