Why do pumas scream?

Pumas are often called mountain lions or cougars. They have a wide range of vocalisations one of which is the long range scream (as opposed to the lion roar which is also a long range call).

Female pums screaming for a mate
Screenshot with words added by PoC.
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It is quite rarely heard in the wild. Various commentators and scientists have described the sound as ‘like the shriek of a vampire woman’ and ‘unearthly’. It has been compared to the roar of a lion except that it is of a higher pitch and a shorter duration (McCabe in The scream of the mountain lion published in J. Mammal 1949).

A more detailed description is provided by Vernon Bailey of the US Biological Survey:

….heavy and prolonged, slightly raising and falling and fairly well indicated by the letters o-o-W-O-U-H-u-u.

The best book on the wild cats (Wild Cats Of The World) is rather ambivalent on why pumas scream. However, the authors do say that females engage in ‘screaming, rubbing, rolling, clawing and other behavioural changes…..during the early stages of sexual activity’.

This implies that the puma scream is a version of the domestic cat caterwaul and is a call to males to approach for mating. However, the authors do say that there are rare records of free-ranging females in the early stages of sexual activity producing a series of ‘loud snarling yowls’. Are these screams?

The video below captures the puma scream very well I think. It has that slightly sinister edge to it. The person who uploaded it describes is as a female looking for a male mate. Note: embedded videos can disappear and if that has happened I am sorry.

A guy on quora.com, James Roe, supports this assessment. He remarks that it is the females who scream to attract males to mate.

A video on YouTube of a camera trap capture shows a female ‘screaming’. It seems that the sound in this instance is not long range as it is not really loud enough which is why it might be a shrill, whistle-like call. Although the whistle can be heard from 300 yards (click to read about the puma whistle).


Female pumas scream to attract males to make babies.


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