The puma is a big little cat

Despite the puma being a physically large cat and the fact that their size is frequently overestimated, they are not classified, scientifically, as one of the big cats. The phrase “big cat” is very specific in this instance. It does not simply describe a large wild cat but a group of cats that can roar namely: the jaguar, leopard, lion and tiger.

Puma and collie size comparison

Puma and collie size comparison. Illustration: PoC.

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For many years there was an argument between scientists on the topic as to whether the puma is a member of the big cat group. The argument subsided when molecular geneticists started to study felid ‘phylogeny’. Phylogeny is the history of the evolution of a species or group of animals with reference to their lines of descent and the relationships that they have among a broad group of other animals.

This resulted in the debate concluding with the admission that the puma is part of the small cat group (Felis).

The reasons included the following:

  1. the shape of the puma’s rhinarium (nose);
  2. the morphology of its feet;
  3. the shape of its pupils;
  4. the short, wide skull and short face (the distance from the eyes to the end of the nose), all of which are similar to those of small cats.

Interestingly, this conclusion, based on the first three items above, was made by R.I. Pocock in 1917 in his article: The classification of existing Felidae according to Mel and Fiona Sunquist who wrote the book Wild Cats of the World.

And perhaps the most important difference between the puma and the big cats is that the puma does not roar. In fact, it purrs like a smaller cat.

The puma, in some respects, looks like a cheetah in that they both have small, rounded heads, slim, lanky bodies and moderately long limbs. And they are similar in their character which is described as retiring and gentle, eager to flee rather than fight. Both species rarely confront people.

Tesla autopilot avoids puma running across road in Montana

Tesla autopilot avoids puma running across road in Montana

Because the jaguar no longer lives in North America, the puma is the largest native North American cat. But, as mentioned, their size is frequently overestimated. Perhaps this originates in the people who like to hunt pumas who might be exaggerating and therefore disseminating a distortion about the size of this large cat.

There have been some size record holders such as one that was claimed to be 170 kg as reported in the Sports Afield Hunting Annual (What is the largest mountain lion on record?. It was killed in 1958 in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Another large specimen was certified to the US Biology Survey to weigh 125 kg in 1917. It’s intestines had been removed. It had been killed by a ‘predator hunter’ (Fiona Sunquist).

My reference book indicates that females can weigh 35 kg or less. One in Florida weighed 22.7 kg for example. And a female puma in Brazil weighed 25 kg. As for the males, the average weight of 11 males in Canada was 71 kg. The average weight of 10 males in New Mexico was 58.9 kg.

A 10-year-old boy weighs about 32 kg, about the same size as a female puma. I weigh about 73 kg. The average weight of a man who is 5’7″ tall is around 72 kg. So, we can argue that male pumas are about the same weight as a man of moderate stature, let’s put it that way.

The weight and size of pumas varies considerably over the huge distribution.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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