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April 21, 2018  |  Login

Florida Panther
Puma concolor coryi

What Are They Like?

Florida’s state animal, the Florida panther, is a critically endangered cat that once ranged throughout the Southeast U.S. The Florida panther is a large, long-tailed cat with a tawny coat that ranges from pale brown to rust on its upper parts, and dull white to buff on its under-parts. The tip of a panther’s tail, the back of its ears, and the sides of its nose are dark brown or blackish. Mature male panthers weigh between 102-150 pounds (46-68 kilograms) and measure nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters) from their nose to the tip of their tail. Females are considerably smaller, weighing between 50 and 108 pounds (22.7-49 kilograms) and measuring about 6 feet (1.8 meters) long. The average lifespan of a Florida panther in the wild is 12 years.

Where Do They Live?

Panthers can live in forests, grasslands or swamps. They prefer dry forests, but will cross water if necessary. One of the most important habitat types to the Florida panther is slash pine with an under-story of saw palmetto. Florida panthers use the dense saw palmetto thickets as stalking cover while trying to sneak up on prey, and to hide the dens where they raise their kittens. The type of habitat is not nearly as important to a panther as the habitat’s size. Florida panthers need a huge area to live and breed. Each female panther needs 75 square miles (194 square kilometers) of contiguous habitat; each male needs 200 square miles (518 square kilometers).

Did You Know?
Florida panthers do not roar, but they do make sounds. These include chirps, peeps, whistles, moans, screams, growls, hisses and (like domestic cats), purrs.

How Are Babies Made?

Male Florida panthers are sexually mature at three years of age, and females at 18 months. Breeding usually takes place between December and March, and a litter of two to three kittens is born between March and June after a pregnancy of 92 to 96 days. Kittens weigh about 1 pound (.45 kilograms) at birth. Florida panther kittens are born with spotted coats and bright blue eyes, which are initially closed. Their spotted coats give the vulnerable kittens good camouflage from predators as they grow. The spots and eye color fade by the time the kittens are six months old.

What Do They Eat?

Panthers are carnivores and hunters, whose main prey species are white-tailed deer, wild pigs, raccoons and armadillos.

Did You Know?
The Florida panther is the last subspecies of Puma still surviving in the eastern United States. Only about 100 of these rare creatures remain in the wild.

What Do They Do?

Like many other big cats, panthers are nocturnal animals that sleep for most of the day and hunt, eat and mate at night. While hunting, panthers stalk their prey. Instead of chasing, panthers spring on their prey, delivering a fatal bite to the back of its neck and severing its spinal cord. A panther can spring 15 feet (4.5 meters) to make a kill. To communicate with one another, Florida panthers use scent-marking behaviors. They will rub the sides of their faces on objects, releasing chemicals from scent glands on their cheeks; rake their claws on tree trunks to release scent from glands on their feet; or leave urine or feces in conspicuous locations. This allows other cats to learn about the original cat that left the scent mark: its identity, status (dominant or subordinate), age, sex, reproductive state, and the dimensions of its home territory.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The Florida panther was first listed as endangered in March of 1967. Since that time, it has never left the Endangered Species List. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were only 20-30 panthers left in the wild, and this small population was not genetically diverse enough to survive. Since then, the panther population has increased from its low ebb, to an estimated 100 cats today. This increase was possible because in 1995 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imported eight female cougars from Texas to breed with Florida panther males in hopes of increasing the remaining population’s genetic diversity. The experiment worked, but only for a short while. Lack of genetic diversity is again becoming a problem, and scientists identified a new set of genetic problems in 2008. The panther also is threatened by Florida’s unbridled real-estate development, which continues to encroach on the little remaining panther habitat. While habitat loss, habitat degradation habitat fragmentation and lack of genetic diversity are the greatest threats currently facing the Florida panther, the few remaining panthers also are at risk from automobile collisions. In 2009, 17 panthers died after being hit by cars.

What's Being Done?

The Florida panther was federally listed as an endangered species in 1967. Panthers are protected under other legal measures including the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix 1. In Florida, panthers are protected by the Florida Endangered and Threatened Species Act and the Florida Administrative Code. Conservation organizations including Defenders of Wildlife are aiding panther recovery by protecting habitat from development, and preserving habitat as conservation lands. To reduce panther mortality rates on roadways, they advocate for wildlife considerations in transportation planning and installation of wildlife underpasses, urging agencies to use sound science in development planning and panther management. They have also worked to restore panthers to their historic range of the southeastern United States and are active in promoting education and raising awareness of panthers and their recovery needs.


Florida Panthers Update

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