Endangered Species: Cougar

A Christiansburg Elementary Project
Submitted by Tracy of Christiansburg Elementary School
Christiansburg, Virginia, U.S.A.

This image courtesy of Eastman Kodak digital images.
Mike Keller, photographer
cougar art
Original artwork by Tracy
Why Study This Topic? What Was Already Known Search for Information Description of Plant or Animal Habitat Requirements
Adaptations Reasons for Endangerment Restoration Actions What Was Learned Conclusions from Research

Why Study This Topic?

  The cougar has lots of different names. Its names are puma, panther, wildcat, and mountain lion--all these names are used for the same animal, the cougar. Since the cougar has so many names, is it any wonder that it has also been nicknamed "mountain devil" and "sneakcat?"

What Was Already Known

  No formation provided for this section.

Search for Information

  Karen Terwilliger's book, Virginia's Endangered Species, published in 1991 was used as a reference for this report. (Pages 521-545, 556, 560, 599-601)

Description of Plant or Animal

  The cougar is one of the largest cats in North America, only the jaguar is bigger. An average-sized female is about half a meter (five feet) long and weighs about 40 kilometers (90 pounds). The male is almost twice as large as the female.

  Cougars are in a much larger family--the cat family. Cougars, unlike other big cats, cannot roar. They can purr and growl. They are the only big cats that cannot pull in their claws. The cougars' relatives in North and South America are other members of the cat family such as the jaguar, leopard, and bobcat.

  Cougars are playful as baby kittens. As soon as the babies are born, a mother cougar holds each kitten with a huge, but gentle paw and licks them clean and dry. Soon the kittens snuggle up to receive their mothers' rich and warm milk. Usually the cougar's lair is a small cave or crevice in the rocks. The kittens and their mother make up a family.

Habitat Requirements

  Cougars used to be found in many places, but today their home or territory is mostly in the mountains. Cougar territory is usually quite large compared to most animals' territories. Cougars use a post to sharpen their claws. In that way, they are saying "No Trespassing" to other cougars.

  Like all animal hunters, the cougar must see to hunt. Its keen eye sight helps the cougar spot animals that are far away. Because cougars pounce from certain distances, they must know how far to leap. Cougars' eyes are placed in the front of their heads and help to tell them how far away objects are. Deer, cougars' main prey, have good eye sight too. This is helpful to the deer and other prey, because it allows them to watch for predators who are trying to sneak up behind them. but deer cannot judge distances as well as cougars. Like many animals, cougars are color blind. They see only in shades of black and white. But they see much better at night than humans do. This is especially important in summer. When the days are hot, most prey and feed at night. When hunting, cougars rely on their eyes more than their noses.

  In a dry area, cougars find a puddle of water a welcoming sight.


  Cougar's long muscled legs give it lots of leaping power. Because its back legs are slightly longer then the front ones, it has more power. If you have ever watched a house cat jump, you know that most of a cat's jumping ability comes from the strength from its hind legs.

  To keep it balanced as it leaps, the cougar uses its thick, heavy tail as a rudder.

  One would expect that a strong animal such as the cougar would also be a strong runner. That is not the case. The cougar can run fast, but only for a very short distance because it tires quickly. It must rely on its stealth to sneak up on its dinner.

  How can an animal as big as the cougar avoid being seen as it stalks its prey? The cougar's tawny color helps it blend in with its surroundings and makes it easy to see. If you look closely you will see that a cougar does not have just one color of fur. It has patches of white and black fur below its nose that looks a bit like butterflies resting on its big upper lip. If a cougar wants to let another animal know how it feels, it moves its ears and tail. The black markings draw attention to its switching tail or laid back ears. If a cougar does not want to be seen, it can keep still and its dark patches blend into the shade of its environment.

  Cougars would not be able to move so quietly and steadily through their territories if it were not for their broad paws. Cougars have four toes and a thumb on each front foot and at the base of each paw. This helps muffles the sound of cougars' footstep. Cougars can also spread their toes wide apart to grasp ground for extra traction. On each toe, cougars have little pockets that hold their sharp claws. When cougars want to move silently, they pull their claws into their pockets. when they want to climb trees or hold their prey, they pop out their claws. A lofty perch in a tree is an ideal spot to wait for passing game.

Reasons for Endangerment

  I learned that man has eliminated much of their territory by building homes and grazing cattle.

Restoration Actions

  No formation provided for this section.

What Was Learned

  I learned that man has eliminated much of their territory by building homes and grazing cattle. Now cougars' territories are limited to mostly mountainous areas, where humans do not go.

Conclusions From Research

  This concludes my report on cougars. For the most part, I found them to be an interesting animal. I also learned a lot about their habitat and habits.

  I hope that humans will try to increase the numbers of this big cat, so that they no longer are endangered or gone from areas. It is sad to me that cougars have not been seen in Virginia in more than 100 years.

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© copyright 1997 Christiansburg Elementary
Last updated on March 6, 1998