Florida panther

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Florida panther
Everglades National Park Florida Panther.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Puma
Species: P. concolor
Subspecies: P. c. coryi
Bangs, 1899
Trinomial name
Puma concolor coryi
Bangs, 1899

Proposed taxonomic revision: aggregation with other subspecies of Puma concolor into a single subspecies of North American cougar, P. c. couguar,[1] based on genetic work.[2]

The Florida panther is an endangered subspecies of cougar (Puma concolor) that lives in forests and swamps of southern Florida in the United States. Its current taxonomic status (Puma concolor coryi or Puma concolor couguar) is unresolved, but recent genetic research alone does not alter the legal conservation status. This subspecies of cougar is sometimes referred to as cougar, mountain lion, puma, and catamount; but in the southeastern United States and particularly Florida, it is exclusively known as the panther, with respect to its distinction from different cougar subspecies found in other regions of the United States. Florida panthers are usually found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mix swamp forests.

Males can weigh up to 160 pounds (73 kg)[3] and live within a range that includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.[4] This population, the only unequivocal cougar representative in the eastern United States, currently occupies 5% of its historic range. In the 1970s, there were an estimated 20 Florida panthers in the wild, and their numbers have increased to an estimated 100 to 160 as of 2011.[5] In 2013, it was reported that there are only 160 Florida panthers in the wild.[6]

In 1982, the Florida panther was chosen as the Florida state animal.[7]



Florida panthers are spotted at birth and typically have blue eyes. As the panther grows the spots fade and the coat becomes completely tan while the eyes typically take on a yellow hue. The panther's underbelly is a creamy white, with black tips on the tail and ears. Florida panthers lack the ability to roar, and instead make distinct sounds that include whistles, chirps, growls, hisses, and purrs. Florida panthers are mid-sized for the species, being smaller than cougars from Northern and Southern climes but larger than cougars from the neotropics. Adult female Florida panthers weigh 29–45.5 kg (64–100 lb) whereas the larger males weigh 45.5–72 kg (100–159 lb). Total length is from 1.8 to 2.2 m (5.9 to 7.2 ft) and shoulder height is 60–70 cm (24–28 in).[8][9] Male panthers, on average, are 9.4% longer and 33.2% heavier than females. This is because males grow at a faster rate than females and for a longer amount of time.[10]

Taxonomic status

The Florida panther has long been considered a unique subspecies of cougar, under the trinomial Puma concolor coryi (Felis concolor coryi in older listings), one of thirty-two subspecies once recognized. The Florida panther has been protected from legal hunting since 1958, and in 1967 it was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; it was added to the state's endangered species list in 1973.[7][11]

A genetic study of cougar mitochondrial DNA has reported that many of the supposed subspecies are too similar to be recognized as distinct,[2] suggesting a reclassification of the Florida panther and numerous other subspecies into a single North American cougar (Puma concolor couguar). Following the research, the canonical Mammal Species of the World (3rd edition) ceased to recognize the Florida panther as a unique subspecies, collapsing it and others into the North American cougar.[1]

Despite these findings it is still listed as subspecies Puma concolor coryi in research works, including those directly concerned with its conservation.[12] Responding to the research that suggested removing its subspecies status, the Florida Panther Recovery Team noted in 2007 "the degree to which the scientific community has accepted the results of Culver et al. and the proposed change in taxonomy is not resolved at this time."[13]


The Florida panther is a large carnivore whose diet consists of small animals like hares, mice, and waterfowl but also larger animals like storks, white-tailed deer, wild boar, and even the American Alligator. The hunting season of the panther is greatly affected by the behavior of their prey, especially the deer. Deer are nocturnal in nature which makes hunting especially for this type of prey more of a success for panthers since they are nocturnal hunters. When hunting, panthers shift their hunting environment based on where the prey base is. The female panther in particular is especially dependent on nutrition because their reproductive rates, home range size and movement behavior are affected by it.[14][15] [16][17]

Early life

Panther kittens are born in dens created by their mothers, often in dense scrub. The dens are chosen based on a variety of factors, including prey availability, and have been observed in a range of habitats. Kittens will spend the first 6–8 weeks of life in those dens, dependent on their mother.[18] In the first 2–3 weeks, the mother will spend most of her time nursing the kittens; after this period, she will spend more time away from the den, to wean the cubs and to hunt prey to bring to the den. Once they are old enough to leave the den, they will hunt in the company of their mother. Male panthers will not be encountered frequently during this time, as female and male panthers generally avoid each other outside of breeding. Kittens are usually 2 months old when they begin hunting with their mothers, and 2 years old when they begin to hunt and live on their own.[19]


The Florida panther has a natural predator, the alligator. Humans also threaten it through poaching and wildlife control measures. Besides predation, the biggest threat to their survival is human encroachment. Historical persecution reduced this wide-ranging, large carnivore to a small area of south Florida. This created a tiny isolated population that became inbred (revealed by kinked tails, heart, and sperm problems).[20]

Two young panthers at White Oak in Nassau County, Florida

The two highest causes of mortality for individual Florida panthers are automobile collisions and territorial aggression between panthers.[21] When these incidents injure the panthers, federal and Florida wildlife officials take them to White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida for recovery and rehabilitation until they are well enough to be reintroduced.[22] Additionally, White Oak raises orphaned cubs and has done so for 12 individuals. Most recently, an orphaned brother and sister were brought to the center at 5 months old in 2011 after their mother was found dead in Collier County, Florida.[23] After being raised, the male and female were released in early 2013 to the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area and Collier County, respectively.[24]

Primary threats to the population as a whole include habitat loss, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation. Southern Florida is a fast-developing area and certain developments such as Ave Maria near Naples, are controversial for their location in prime panther habitat.[25] Fragmentation by major roads has severely segmented the sexes of the Florida panther as well. In a study done between the years of 1981 and 2004, it was seen that most panthers involved in car collisions were male. However, females are much more reluctant to cross roads. Therefore, roads separate habitat, and adult panthers.[26]

Development and the Caloosahatchee River are major barriers to natural population expansion. While young males wander over extremely large areas in search of an available territory, females occupy home ranges close to their mothers. For this reason, panthers are poor colonizers and expand their range slowly despite occurrences of males far away from the core population.


Antigen analysis on select Florida panther populations has shown evidence of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Puma Lentivirus among certain individuals. The presence of these viruses is likely related to mating behaviors and territory sympatry. Although, since Florida panthers have lower levels of the antibodies produced in response to FIV, it is difficult to find consistently positive results for the presence of infection.[27]

In the 2002–2003 capture season, Feline leukemia virus was first observed in two panthers. Further analysis determined an increase in FeLV positive panthers from January 1990 to April 2007. The virus is lethal, and its presence has resulted in efforts to inoculate the population. While there have been no new cases since July 2004, the virus does have potential for reintroduction.[28]


Exposure to a variety of chemical compounds in the environment have caused reproductive impairment to Florida panthers. Tests show that the differences between males and females in estradiol levels are insignificant, which suggests that males have been feminized due to chemical exposure. Feminized males are much less likely to reproduce, which represents a significant threat to a subspecies that already has a low population count and a lot of inbreeding. Chemical compounds that have created abnormalties in Florida panther reproduction include herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides such as benomyl, carbendazim, chlordecone, methoxychlor, methylmercury, fenarimol, and TCDD.[29]

Genetic Depletion

Of all the puma subspecies, the Florida panther has the lowest genetic diversity. The low population of Florida panthers causes high rates of inbreeding, which can cause genetic defects including Cryptorchidism, cardiac defects, and weakened immune systems. Another effect of inbreeding is that it decreases genetic variance, thereby furthering the genetic depletion of the Florida panther. One of the morphological effects of inbreeding is the high frequency of a cowlick and a kinked tail. The frequency for a Florida panther to exhibit a cowlick is 94% compared to other pumas at 9%; the frequency for a Florida panther to exhibit a kinked tail is 88%, but only 27% for other puma subspecies. A proposed solution to increase genetic diversity of the Florida puma is to introduce the Texas puma to the Florida puma population.[30] Genetic Depletion is not as big of a problem as it used to be, but is something that needs to be watched since the population is still in a fragile state.

Vehicular Collisions

Florida panthers live in home ranges between 190 km2 and 500 km2. Within these ranges are many roads and human constructions, which are regularly traveled on by Florida panthers and can result in their death by vehicular collision. Efforts to reduce vehicular collisions with the Florida panther include nighttime speed reduction zones, special roadsides, headlight reflectors, and rumble strips. Another method of reducing collisions is the creation of wildlife corridors. Because wildlife corridors emulate the natural environment, animals are more likely to cross through a corridor rather than a road because a corridor provides more cover for prey and predators, and is safer to cross than a road.[31]

Conservation status

Florida panther at Audubon's Possum Long Nature Center, Stuart, Florida, September, 1992

It was formerly considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN, but it has not been listed since 2008. Recovery efforts are currently underway in Florida to conserve the state's remaining population of native panthers. This is a difficult task, as the panther requires contiguous areas of habitat – each breeding unit, consisting of one male and two to five females, requires about 200 square miles (500 km2) of habitat.[32] This animal is considered to be a conservational flagship because it is a major contributor to the keystone ecological and evolutionary processes in their environment.[17] A population of 240 panthers would require 8,000–12,000 square miles (21,000–31,000 km2) of habitat and sufficient genetic diversity in order to avoid inbreeding as a result of small population size. However, a study in 2006 estimated that there was about 3,800 square miles (9,800 km2) free for the panthers.[33] The introduction of eight female cougars from a closely related Texas population has apparently been successful in mitigating inbreeding problems.[34] One objective to panther recovery is establishing two additional populations within historic range, a goal that has been politically difficult.[35]

Habitat Conservation

The conservation of Florida panther habitats is especially important because they rely on the protection of the forest, specifically hardwood hammock, cypress swamp, pineland and hardwood swamp, for their survival.[17] Conservations strategies for Florida panthers tend to focus on their preferred morning habitats. However, GPS tracking has determined that habitat selection for panthers varies by time of day for all observed individuals, regardless of size or gender. They move from wetlands during the daytime, to prairie grasslands at night. The implications of these findings suggest that conservation efforts be focused on the full range of habitats utilized by Florida panther populations.[36] Female panthers with cubs build dens for their litters in an equally wide variety of habitats, favoring dense scrub but also using grassland and marshland.[18]

Management controversy

The Florida panther has been at the center of a controversy over the science used to manage the species. There has been very strong disagreement between scientists about the location and nature of critical habitat. This in turn is linked to a dispute over management which involves property developers and environmental organizations.[37] Recovery agencies appointed a panel of four experts, the Florida Panther Scientific Review Team (SRT), to evaluate the soundness of the body of work used to guide panther recovery. The SRT identified serious problems in panther literature, including mis-citations and misrepresentation of data to support unsound conclusions.[38][39][40] A Data Quality Act (DQA) complaint brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Andrew Eller, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), was successful in demonstrating that agencies continued to use incorrect data after it had been clearly identified as such.[41] As a result of the DQA ruling, USFWS admitted errors in the science the agency was using and subsequently reinstated Eller, who had been fired by USFWS after filing the DQA complaint. In two white papers, environmental groups contended that habitat development was permitted that should not have been, and documented the link between incorrect data and financial conflicts of interest.[42][43] In January 2006, USFWS released a new Draft Florida Panther Recovery Plan for public review.[44]

The Florida panther in fiction

A Florida panther is one of the main characters of the young adult novel Scat by Carl Hiaasen.

A Florida panther in a sanctuary figures in the penultimate chapter of Humana Festa (2008) by Brazilian novelist Regina Rheda. In the English translation (2012), the animal is referred to as "cougar" to maintain effective wordplay.

A Florida panther was a major character in the 1998 Boxcar Children book The Panther Mystery.

A Florida panther is a major character in 1998 novel, Power, by Linda Hogan (New York: Norton and Co.)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 544–545. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Culver, M.; Johnson, W.E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; O'Brein, S.J. (2000). "Genomic Ancestry of the American Puma" (PDF). Journal of Heredity. 91 (3): 186–197. doi:10.1093/jhered/91.3.186. PMID 10833043.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Florida Panther General Information". Florida Panther Society. Retrieved 2010-12-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. FLORIDA PANTHER. Division of Endangered Species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last Retrieved 2007-01-30. Archived April 27, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. "msnbc.com Video Player". MSNBC. Retrieved 2011-10-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Rare Florida Panther Released Back Into the Wild in Palm Beach. nbcmiami.com. April 4, 2013
  7. 7.0 7.1 Florida Department of State (2015). "State Animal: Florida Panther". dos.myflorida.com. Tallahassee, Florida, US: State of Florida, Florida Department of State. Archived from the original on 2015-01-22. Retrieved 2015-03-28. Much folklore surrounds these seldom-seen cats, sometimes called 'catamounts' or 'painters,' and they have been persecuted out of fear and misunderstanding of the role these large predators play in the natural ecosystem. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. WEC 167/UW176: Jaguar: Another Threatened Panther. Edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Retrieved on 2012-05-02.
  9. PantherNet : Handbook: Natural History : Physical Description. Floridapanthernet.org. Retrieved on 2012-05-02.
  10. Bartareau, T. (March 2013). "Growth in body length and mass of the Florida panther: An evaluation of different models and sexual size dimorphism". Southeastern Naturalist. 12 (1): 27–40. doi:10.1656/058.012.0103. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Florida Panther". Endangered and Threatened Species of the Southeastern United States (The Red Book). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Archived from the original on July 6, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-07. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Conroy, Michael J.; Paul Beier; Howard Quigley; Michael R. Vaughan (January 2006). Morrison (ed.). "Improving The Use Of Science In Conservation: Lessons From The Florida Panther" (PDF). Journal of Wildlife Management. 70 (1): 1–7. doi:10.2193/0022-541X(2006)70[1:ITUOSI]2.0.CO;2. Retrieved 2007-06-11. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. The Florida Panther Recovery Team (2006-01-31). "Florida Panther Recovery Plan (Draft)" (PDF). Vero Beach, FL, US: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-11. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Maehr, David S.; Land, E. Darrell; Roof, Jayde C.; Mccown, J. Walter (1989). "Early Maternal Behavior in the Florida Panther (Felis concolor coryi)". American Midland Naturalist. 122 (1): 34–43. doi:10.2307/2425680. JSTOR 2425680.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Kilgo, J. E. "Influences of Hunting on the Behavior of White-Tailed Deer: Implications for Conservation of the Florida Panther" (PDF). Conservation Biology. 12 (6): 1359–1365. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.1998.97223.x.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. McBride, Roy; McBride, Cougar (December 2010). "Predation of a Large Alligator by a Florida Panther". Southeastern Naturalist. 9 (4): 854–856. doi:10.1656/058.009.0420.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Maehr, David S.; Deason, Jonathan P. (2014). "Wide-ranging carnivores and development permits: constructing a multi-scale model to evaluate impacts on the Florida panther". Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy. 3 (4): 398–406. doi:10.1007/s10098-001-0129-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 Benson, John F.; Lotz, Mark A.; Jansen, Deborah (February 2008). "Natal Den Selection by Florida Panthers". Journal of Wildlife Management. 72 (2): 405–410. doi:10.2193/2007-264.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Maeher, D.S.; Land, E. Darrell; Roof, Jayde C.; McCown, J. Walter (July 1989). "Early maternal behavior in the Florida panther". The American Midland Naturalist. 122 (1): 34–43. doi:10.2307/2425680.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Sivlerstein, Alvin (1997). The Florida Panther. Brooksville, Connecticut: Millbrook Press. pp. 41+. ISBN 0-7613-0049-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "The Florida Panther". Sierra Club Florida. Retrieved 21 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "BACK TO THE WILD". Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge. Retrieved 21 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Staats, Eric. "Orphaned Florida panther kittens rescued". Naples Daily News. Retrieved 3 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Fleshler, David. "First Florida panther released into Palm Beach County". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 3 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Staats, Eric (January 27, 2004). "Sierra Club Says Ave Maria Will 'Threaten' Everglades". Naples Daily News. Retrieved 2009-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Schwab, Autumn; Paul Zandbergen (April 2011). "Vehicle-related mortality and road crossing behavior of the Florida Panther". Applied Geography. 31 (2): 859–870. doi:10.1016/j.apgeog.2010.10.015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Miller, D.L.; Taylor, Rotstein; Pough, Barr (April 2006). "Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Puma Lentivirus in Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi): Epidemiology and Diagnostic Issues". Veterinary Research Communications. 30 (3): 307–317. doi:10.1007/s11259-006-3167-x.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Cunningham, Mark (July 2008). "Epizootiology and Management of Feline Leukemia Virus in the Florida Puma". Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 44 (3): 537–552. doi:10.7589/0090-3558-44.3.537. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Facemire, Charles; Gross, Guillette (May 1995). "Reproductive Impairment in the Florida Panther: Nature or Nurture?" (PDF). Environmental Health Perspectives. 103 (Supplement 4): 79–86. doi:10.2307/3432416. PMC 1519283. PMID 7556029.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Roelke, Melody (1993). "The consequences of demographic reduction and genetic depletion in the endangered Florida panther" (PDF). Current Biology. 3 (6): 340–350. doi:10.1016/0960-9822(93)90197-v. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Land, Darrell; Lotz (1996). "Wildlife Crossing Designs and Use by Florida Panthers and Other Wildlife in Southwest Florida". Trends in Addressing Transportation Related Wildlife Mortality (PDF). p. 323.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Florida Panther Recovery Plan. The Florida Panther Recovery Team, South Florida Ecological Services Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Published 1995-03-13. Retrieved 2007-01-30.
  33. Kautz, Randy (June 2006). "How much is enough? Landscape-scale conservation for the Florida panther". Biological Conservation. 130 (1): 118–133. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.12.007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Florida Panther and the Genetic Restoration Program. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 2007-01-30.
  35. Pittman, Craig (December 18, 2008). "Florida panthers need new territory, federal officials say". Tampa Bay Times. St. Petersburg, FL. Retrieved 2013-08-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Onorato, D.P. (April 2011). "Habitat selection by critically endangered Florida panthers across the diel period: implications for land management and conservation" (PDF). Animal Conservation. 14 (11): 196–205. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2010.00415.x. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Gross L (2005). "Why Not the Best? How Science Failed the Florida Panther". PLoS Biol. 3 (9): e333. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030333.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Beier, P; Vaughan, MR; Conroy, MJ and Quigley, H. 2003, An analysis of scientific literature related to the Florida panther: Submitted as final report for Project NG01-105, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, FL.
  39. Beier, P; Vaughan, MR; Conroy, MJ and Quigley, H (2006). "Evaluating scientific inferences about the Florida panther" (PDF). Journal of Wildlife Management. 70: 236–245. doi:10.2193/0022-541x(2006)70[236:esiatf]2.0.co;2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Conroy, MJ, P Beier, H Quigley, and MR Vaughan (2006). "Improving the use of science in conservation: lessons from the Florida panther" (PDF). Journal of Wildlife Management. 70: 1–7. doi:10.2193/0022-541X(2006)70[1:ITUOSI]2.0.CO;2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Information Quality Guidelines: Your Questions and Our Responses. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Published 2005-03-21. Retrieved 2007-01-30.
  42. Kostyack, J and Hill, K. (2005) Giving Away the Store. The Florida Panther Society
  43. Kostyack, J and Hill, K. (2004) Discrediting a Decade of Panther Science: Implications of the Scientific Review Team Report. The Florida Panther Society
  44. Fish and Wildlife Service releases Draft Florida Panther Recovery Plan for public review. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Published 2006-01-31. Retrieved 2007-01-30.

External links