Covert Cougars!

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The cougar (Puma concolor)

 

Hello, gorgeous!

I am talking to both you and that cougar 😉

I hope you are enjoying life, while remembering to give yourself as much unconditional love as your furry, finned, scaled, and feathered companion give to you.  In my last post I went waaaaay up into the heart, so today I am going to switch gears and talk about three things I freaking love: Big Cats, Wildlife Ecology, and Sleep!

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The other day I was taking a break from writing our book trilogy  by tweetering around on twitter (another one of my best displacement behaviors).  😉   While I was out there I came across a very cool post from Panthera, so I was inspired to learn more.  I’ve been following their great work ever since a dear friend became their C.O.O., but this particular project really got my attention.  It was not only about who cougars are choosing to cuddle with, but where and why.

If you are not yet aware, Panthera is not only the name of the genus within the Felidae family; Panthera is also the only organization in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their landscapes!  Seriously.  How amazing is that!?  You will be stunned at the incredible conservation work they are doing around the globe, so be sure to check them out!  Below is their mission statement.

Panthera’s mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action.  We have brought together the world’s leading wild cat experts to direct and implement effective conservation strategies for the world’s largest and most endangered cats: tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards.  Our approach to wild cat conservation is rooted in science and based upon decades of first hand field experience. We seek a future in which the world’s 37 wild cat species have the necessary and ongoing protection from human and environmental threats to persist and thrive in the wild. Our vision sees endangered wild cat populations rebounded, critical habitats and core populations connected by genetic and biological corridors, and a global commitment to protect these iconic species through near and distant futures.


 

Fabulous Felidae! 

Ever since I began working around and managing captive groups of exotic cats back in the day, I have been head over heels in love with every species of wild feline.  They never cease to teach me something new and incredible.  And since I happen to adore house cats and appreciate the powerful genetic link, I thought this would be a fun post to share!

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Our beloved Garth at Audubon, may he rest in peace always

 

Now, if you are not familiar with the word Felidae, I can explain.  Think of your family. You may not be close, but you are of the same lineage.  Felidae is a lineage of carnivorans colloquially referred to as “cats.”   Members of this family are called “felids.”  So the term “cat” refers both to felids in general and domestic cats.  Your house cat belongs to the Felidae family, just like Garth, the African lion, pictured above! Pretty cool, huh?

Felids are separated into two distinct subgroups: large cats and small cats.  Some of these small cats, due to a hardening of the hyoid bone, have an inability to roar. But many of them purr (as you might have read about before).  Felidae consists of 2 subfamilies: Pantherinae and Felinae.  We humans don’t have subfamilies, (although I am sure some people view their younger, annoying siblings this way 😉  There are a number of genus within the Felidae family.  Some feline biologists only acknowledge a few genera of felids, but most agree there are 18 genera (genus) and 36 species of Felidae.

Note: A “genus” is a rank in the biological classification/taxonomy. It stands above species, and below families. A genus can include more than one species. When biologists talk about a genus, they mean one or more species of animals or plants that are closely related to each other.  Below is an easy rundown of the classification of the cougar which includes genus and family.

concolor. Puma concolor.
Chapter 18 Classification by E.Stone

 


 

Beyond Cool Cats

But as cool as these wild cats are, it’s important to note that if we want to understand how to provide proper conditions for house cats, we need to look at the species as a whole.  And if we want to support conservation efforts, it helps to understand and appreciate the species as a whole.  This post serves to do just that.  So grab your coffee, tea, water, or wine, and get comfy with your cuddle-bug!  We are going to take a peek at one of the house cat’s kin: The Cougar!

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image via istock

The puma (Puma concolor) is also commonly known as the mountain lion, cougar, panther, or catamount.  This species is the most widely distributed free-ranging land mammal in the Americas. They are currently found from Northern Canada to the Southern Andes.  At the time of European contact, this species occurred through most of North, Central, and South America.  Today, the cougar has the greatest natural distribution of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere except for man.

The cougar is the largest cat in the genus Felis.  The cougar is comparable in size to the leopard.  Length varies from 59 – 108 inches with a tail length of 21 – 36 inches (I am squealing as I am thinking of such a delightful tail!).  Their height ranges from 23 – 28 inches at the shoulder.  Weight can vary greatly: between 75 and 250 pounds.

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a cougar (puma) using his tail to jump successfully between two caverns

Felis Concolor at a Glance:

Habitat: The cougar thrives in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, dry brush country, or any other area with adequate cover and prey.

Distribution: Western North America from British Columbia and south Alberta south through west Wyoming to California and west Texas. Also south Texas, Louisiana, south Alabama, Tennessee, and peninsular Florida.

Common Names: Cougar, Puma, Panther, Mountain Lion, Catamount
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felidae (Puma)
Species: concolor

Sub-species: 

  • Eastern Texas to Florida – P.c.coryi –IUCN: Endangered, CITES:Appendix I
  • Northeastern US and southeastern Canada Cougar – P.c. couguar – IUCN: Endangered, CITES: Appendix I
  • Central American Cougar – P.c. costaricensis – CITES: Appendix I

Misc: The International Species Information Service lists the current estimated number at 334 in zoos worldwide, with 119 located in the U.S.

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Common Ancestry of Cats

One of the major lessons I learned from working with wild cats during the day and then coming home at night to my house cats was life changing for us all: I realized was living alongside tiny tigers, wee wildcats, and house panthers. My feral cat was amazingly similar to the African wildcat.  My playful black cat was not that different from the Black Panther.  My sweet orange tabby was much like a tiny tiger.  My grey cat was incredibly similar to the fearless cougar.

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Genetic evidence indicates that our modern day house cats are descendants from at least five feline founders of a group of Wildcats from nearly 10,000 years ago.

 

Everything from how they hunted, where they preferred to sleep, how they groomed, how they interacted with their species, other species, their prey, and even people were eerily similar. My house cats’ bodies, needs, behavior, choices, and personalities were not worlds away from these wild cats; they were living parallel lives in many ways.

It turns out, feline science shows they are more alike that most people realize.  In fact, results of mitochondrial analysis indicates that all Felidae descended from a common ancestor.  And genetic evidence indicates that our modern day house cats are descendants from at least five feline founders of a group of Wildcats from 9,000 – 10,000 years ago! Cats are considered only a semi-domesticated species, because many populations are not isolated from wildcats.

“We don’t think house cats are truly domesticated. We refer to them as “semi-domesticated. They only recently split off from wild cats, and some even still breed with their wild relatives. We believe we have created the first preliminary evidence that depicts domestic cats as not that far removed from wildcat populations.” – Wes Warren, professor of genomics at the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis

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A nose print from Garth, the African Lion, acquired during one of his physical exams. This beloved nose print is framed in our home.  Does this resemble your cat’s nose??

What You Don’t Know

Now before you get all judgey about exotic cats being kept in captivity, there are facts that most folks don’t know about these felines.  Many are captive born.  Many are rescued.  Some are confiscations from the illegal animal trade, (just like this tiger recently confiscated here in California) and they are now living in zoos.  Some are clones!  Some are on loan from other zoos for very specific breeding purposes to preserve their species.

Some were pets, like Chloe pictured below. She was horribly mutilated through a declawing procedure.  She was unable to walk, stand upright, or put any pressure on her paw pads after the horrible procedure of declawing.  Thankfully, she gained a new life at Audubon after my dear friend and talented veterinarian went to great lengths to reattach her tendons.  Now she is thriving.

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Chloe, the Louisiana cougar who resides at Audubon after being declawed to become a “pet”

 

Animal care facilities, such as zoos are not out there capturing wild cats and bringing them into captivity.  Most are assisting, breeding, and caring for these cats.  They are being cared for in the best way possible in captive conditions.  There is more going on behind the scenes at zoos than most people realize.  100% of these efforts (at AZA accredited zoos) are dedication towards education and conservation.

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Garth getting his choppers checked by our brilliant veterinarian Dr. Bob


Then and Now

Back in the day, we were managing big cat species with the most recent data and research available.  Today, nearly twenty years later, we have learned so much more! Thanks to advances in technology we are dispelling myths, finding new facts, and using field data to better understand these covert creatures (including what happens when a Male Puma Visits a Female & Her Kitten at their recent Kill)! 😮

These tremendous advances in conservation efforts, both in and out of zoos, are contributing to the success of these species in the wild.  Much of these advances are due to the technology that’s now available to capture these elusive cats on camera.

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cougars caught on film, sharing shelter

 

When I look back to when I was a kid in the 70’s and remember that my go-to handheld device was the Etch A Sketch , I have to laugh.  Now look at what we have available in 2018!  It’s amazing.  As technology has improved, not only have we enabled our society to stay more connected virtually, but our ability to study mysterious and obscure animal behavior has increased.

So this brings us to our focus today:  Covert Cougars & Puma’s Preferred Beds!

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Pumas (Felis concolor) are also referred to as cougars or wild mountain lions.

Strange Feline Bed Fellows

Would it surprise you to learn that house cats choose to sleep in strange places for similar reasons that big cats in the wild choose to sleep in strange places?  If you think about how closely related house cats are to their wild kin, it makes purrrfect sense!

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Ever wonder why your cat wants to hide in a box, or why she chooses to snooze with a cuddle buddy?  Thanks to folks who are studying wild felines in the field, we know why.  It turns out, there is safety in numbers even with more solitary species, and bed selection sites are not random.  Where wild cats and house cats choose to snooze is based on very particular preferences and the need to stay safe and survive!  And pumas, like our house cats, are more social than previously thought!

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Mr. Beaux watching his world while safe and secure in his cat cave                            (This is the “Hide-and-sneak” designed by a veterinarian at Dezi & Roo)

An Extinct Subspecies

As much as I am excited about this post, I am deeply saddened.  Before we go on, there is some sad news to report.  Effective January, 22, 2018, the eastern puma (Felis concolor couguar) is extinct.  My heart sank when I learned this.  Eight decades after the last confirmed sighting, wildlife biologists have concluded that the eastern puma is no more.

To help you better understand how this came to be, it’s helpful to know this subspecies’ (known) history.  This now extinct cat is a subspecies of puma.  The eastern puma (cougar) was originally listed as an endangered species on June 4, 1973.   Historical literature indicates puma populations were mostly in Eastern North America (except for Florida and perhaps the Smoky Mountains) by the 1870s, and in the Midwest by 1900. Puma records from New Brunswick in 1932 and Maine in 1938 suggest that a population may have persisted in northernmost New England and eastern Canada.  By 1900 they had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping.  The last one on record was killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938.

Although habitat conditions now appear to be suitable for puma presence in various portions of the historical range described for the eastern puma, the many decades of both habitat and prey losses belie the sustained survival and reproduction of this subspecies over that time.

Their disappearance was attributed primarily to persecution stemming from fear of large predators, competition with game species, and occasional depredation of livestock.  Other causes of eastern puma losses during the late 1800s included declining habitat.  The most recent confirmed eastern puma sightings date from the mid-1800s to around 1930. Confirmed reports of pumas in Eastern North America (outside Florida) since then have been shown to be either western puma dispersers, as in Missouri, or released or escaped animals, as in Newfoundland.

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A mountain lion (cougar) in the hills of Los Angeles

The agency opened an extensive review in 2011 into the status of the eastern cougar, a genetic cousin of the mountain lions that still inhabit much of the Western United States and of a small, imperiled population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades.  In 2015, federal wildlife biologists concluded that pumas elsewhere in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery.   States now have juridiction to determine the best way to reintroduce the other subspecies of cougars into society.

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A cougar spotted at night via camera “traps”

The puma was documented historically in a variety of eastern habitats from the Everglades in the Southeast to temperate forests in the Northeast.  Aside from presence reports, few historical records exist regarding the natural history of the eastern puma subspecies.   Thankfully, in North America, breeding populations of the Puma species still occupy approximately one-third of their historical range but are now absent from eastern regions outside of Florida.

Below are quotes from the Fish and Wildlife Service explaining their ruling.

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine the eastern puma (=cougar) (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar) to be extinct, based on the best available scientific and commercial information. This information shows no evidence of the existence of either an extant reproducing population or any individuals of the eastern puma subspecies; it also is highly unlikely that an eastern puma population could remain undetected since the last confirmed sighting in 1938. Therefore, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended, we remove this subspecies from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

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Pumas, also known as mountain lions, cougars, or panthers, historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River.

Our decision to remove the eastern puma from the List due to extinction is based on information and analysis showing that the eastern puma likely has been extinct for many decades, long before its listing under the Act. Eastern puma sightings have not been confirmed since the 1930s, and genetic and forensic testing has confirmed that recent validated puma sightings in the East, outside Florida, were animals released or escaped from captivity, or wild pumas dispersing eastward from western North America.


Monitoring Covert Cougars

Like other cryptic, covert carnivores with large territories, puma populations are notoriously difficult to study.   These large Felids are typically solitary, elusive, and nocturnal, making spotting them very challenging.  But it’s a necessity.  Being able to gather reliable data on large Felid populations is crucial for effective conservation and management of this species.  Tagging and following cougars with GPS technology is the standard approach, but these methods are expensive and can compromise the animal’s welfare. So scientists are also using indirect signs for monitoring this covert creature.

Indirect signs are footprints, scat, nests. Often these can be the most effective and least expensive way to detect many animals. Animal footprints are much more frequently encountered in the field than the animals themselves, and have served as the basis for population indices and estimators. Footprint surveys are also non-invasive; the animal need not be seen, captured, or handled.

Non-invasive Methods

Researchers are using at least three non-invasive methods to study puma populations:

  • camera traps (used to identify individual animals by analysis of spots and stripes
  • genetic analysis of hair and scat (puma poop!)
  • footprint surveys

But they have learned that camera traps may underestimate accurate numbers because pumas lack distinguishing marks.  The genetic analysis is accurate, but apparently finding puma poop isn’t that easy.  But, thanks to scat detection dogs, biologists are now  locating more scat! 

Another non-invasive method being used to track these covert cougars is identifying puma prints!  This can be done through tracking three signs a puma has left behind after being in an area:  a Trail, Footprint, or Track

  • Trail = an unbroken series of footprints made by one animal
  • Footprint = a single impression made by a foot
  • Track = commonly used to describe both an individual footprint and a trail

Below is a perfect photo of a puma footprint and a puma footprint showing the placement of 25 landmark points (red circles) and 15 points derived from them and generated by the FIT script (yellow circles).  These provide 40 points to enable the scientists to measure each puma’s footprint precisely.

 


Recent Science Reveals Secrets

A relatively recent study that was part of Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project (TCP), which had already shed invaluable light on other puzzling puma behaviors, enabled conservationists to learn more about this secretive species – everything from their ecological effects to their secret social lives.  The study published on Nov 14, 2017 showed the results of research conducted on cougars in Yellowstone.  Their goal was to determine whether a subordinate carnivore (cougar) chose bedding areas with similar characteristics in an ecosystem that supports a multi-species guild of competing predators.  Basically, they wanted to learn about bed site selection among Pumas!

The video below shows curious cougars (a mother and her kittens) investigating a camera trap in the Teton mountains.  In this region, Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project has discovered a great deal about the behavior and ecology of this misunderstood and charismatic cat.

 


 

I should note:  In the world of Ecology,  a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role within a community.  They exploit the same kinds of resources in comparable ways.  Members of a guild within a given ecosystem could be competing for resources (space, shade, or light), while also cooperating in resisting wind stresses, attracting pollinators, or detecting predators. One example of this kind of guild is the Savannah-dwelling antelope and zebra.

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Antelope and Zebra sharing a primary resource

 

The name “guild” emphasizes the fact that these groups are like associations of craftsmen who employ similar techniques in plying their trade.  They often are composed of groups of closely related species that all arose from a common ancestor, and they exploit resources in similar ways as a result of their shared ancestry.  Several species within a single genus may constitute a guild within a community.

Other examples of guilds in nature are different insect species that collect nectar in similar ways, various bird species that employ corresponding insect-foraging techniques, or diverse plant species that have evolved comparable floral shapes with which they attract the same group of pollinators.

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Mantled Howlers are the most folivorous of the Central American monkeys, meaning they eat large quantities of leaves

Guilds in Nature:

  • Browsers and terrestrial folivores
  • Forest canopy folivores
  • Forest floor scavengers
  • Grazers
  • Forbs ( or “phorb” – an herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid)
  • Graminoids (grasses, rushes and sedges)
  • Plankton
  • Saprophytes (plant, fungus, or microorganism that lives on decaying organic matter)
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Vines
  • Piscivores (carnivorous animal that eats primarily fish)

 

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Most otters, like this Giant Otter (Pteronura basiliensis), are piscivores; hypercarnivores that specialize in eating fish

 

Because members of a guild engage in similar activities, they are often competitors for the resources they share, especially when those resources are scarce.   So, when it comes to safe bedding sites, and sharing resources in a guild, researches wanted to know more about cougars!  Between 2012-2016 the researchers investigated nearly 600 cougar bed sites in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  They carefully examined both the landscape and the microsite.  These TCP researchers used GPS collars to identify the puma bedding sites, then carefully studied each one.

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Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) satellite tracking collar, in the Tien Shan Mountains

Microsite

If we are going to learn why and what they are studying exactly, we need to cover the terms.  A “microsite” is a term used in ecology to describe a pocket within an environment with unique features or conditions.  Ecologists and scientists classifying different microsites based on temperature, humidity, sunlight, nutrient availability, soil characteristics, substrate, vegetation cover, etc.  A microsite is basically a sub environment within an environment.

It’s important to also note that many microsites exist in an environment.  This leads to organisms (plants, insects, animals) basing their selection of habit on the features of the microsite itself.  Being able to choose the best microsite will positively influence the species’ survival, growth and reproduction.  Basically, a good choice of a microsite has a direct relationship to the future generation of that particular species.


Their research discovered that among prey species, bed site selection provides:

  • thermoregulatory benefits
  • mitigates predation risk
  • may directly influence survival

They discovered that pumas gravitate to hidden bed sites where it would be hard for a competitor to see them.  Warmth is also an important factor in bed-site selection, especially during winter.  Their studies also shed light on the fact that these felines face more danger in their natural habitats than most of us realize.

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1. Landscape Choices

Research concerning the landscape, discovered that in the winter, cougars selected bed sites that were in alignment with the hypotheses of both thermoregulatory AND predator avoidance.

In the winter, cougar “beds” / communal sleeping areas were located:

  • on steeper slopes, but at lower elevations
  • closer to the forest edge
  • on southern, eastern, and western-facing slopes

Research concerning the landscape in the summer, showed that bedding areas were a bit different.  They found that cougars chose predator avoidance over thermoregulation.

Summer Bedding was found to be:

  • closer to forest edges
  • away from sagebrush and meadow habitat classes
  • on steeper slopes.

2. Microsite Choices

At the microsite scale, cougar bed characteristic in BOTH the winter and summer supported BOTH of their hypotheses of predator avoidance and thermoregulatory.

Cougars chose bed sites that included:

  • high canopy cover
  • high vegetative concealment
  • in a rugged habitat class (characterized by cliff bands and talus fields)

Note:  Talus is steep, loose piles of rock, formed by the constant process of erosion, and ubiquitous to the mountains.  Talus deposits typically have a concave upwards form.  To mountain climbers, Talus areas are not technical challenging areas to hike, but climbing Talus can be exhausting—and dangerous as well, due to the possibility of landslides consider this an area.  Cliff bands consist of steep, narrow passages.

 


Puuurfectly Suited for the Terrain

Looking at the two terrains pictured above, most people wonder how and why a mountain lion would choose to navigate those kinds of steep terrains, but these wild cats are designed for this habitat.  Pumas have incredible paws!  Their feet have a unique bone structure that enables them to grip rocks, logs, and slippery substrates.  They are even better at this kind of “hiking” than bears or wolves!

 ….So a precarious bed site can offer an escape advantage if a competitor tries to sneak up mid-nap. You’ll probably never see a puma sleep in an open field, as they typically bed down where trees or other landscape features provide a quick escape. –-TCP member Anna Kusler

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This puma has claimed a precarious place that can protect her from less agile enemies (Photo: wplynn/Flickr)

 


Bed Buds

Researchers found that a subordinate predator (pumas) selected bed sites that allowed for both thermoregulatory and anti-predator functions.  Brilliant, eh??  These choices are very similar to what we see occurring in many prey species!  Remember: Cats of all shapes, sizes, and species can be both predator and prey.

It’s also important to recognize that across their range, pumas overlap with six apex predators, including the gray wolf, grizzly bear, American black bear, jaguar, coyote,  and maned wolf.  How’s that for competition for resources and the possibility of become prey?!

“Even though most of us probably think of pumas as top predators with little to fear, that’s not always the case.  In North America, much larger grizzly and black bears steal their hard-earned kills. Wolves, as pack animals, steal their kills AND kill them and their kittens.” -TCP A.Kusler

The biologists now believe that studying bed site characteristics of subordinate predators could provide a new way to measure the use of refugia (an area where a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions).  This would ultimately provide new insights into the habitat requirements and energetics of subordinate carnivores.  Their research highlights some nuances of habitat loss that are easy to overlook.  When trying to protect large predators like pumas, many people — including researchers — focus on the availability of prey.  But this is only part of the puma picture.

“Because the best hunting habitats are not necessarily the safest places to sleep, a puma must find a home range that can provide both types of environment.”

Below is one of the videos they shared with the public, and used in their studies that shed light on where and why pumas chose to bed with other pumas:

 


We often found puma beds tucked underneath the low-lying boughs of a tree, or against the rugged face of an inaccessible cliff.  They seem to prefer steep, rugged terrain, like cliff bands and boulder fields. – A. Kusler


Catnap Connoisseurs

Cats can snooze like no other.  A pussycat can pass out while purring, and some even doze off when bird watching out a window!  Cats never seem to venture far from a nap. The house cat’s pendulum swings between sleeping and stalking so well, we’ve named a version of napping after them!  A cat could be fully aroused one moment, engaging in passionate play or serious stalking, then fall effortlessly back into a catnap.  These cat nappers know what they are doing.  Feline veterinarians agree that if a cat is awake most of 24 hour period of the day, there could be something wrong.  Like their wild ancestors, house cats are programmed for proper sleep; it’s in their DNA.  This instinctual need lets the cat that know that when he/she is not chasing, hunting, eating, or grooming, h/she should be sleeping — or at least searching for a place to sleep.

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Much like the cougars, Mr. Beaux and Knox share shelter and safe snoozing places at our home.  Here we are in our enclosed garden together while I write this post!

 

The family of Felidae is made up of solitary predators.  Lions are the exception; they cooperatively hunt.  But new research has shown that female cougars may benefit from tolerating males during feeding, through the maintenance of social niches that support breeding opportunities.  – Who says females don’t have ulterior motives when it comes to survival of their species? 😉   And when it comes to sleeping, not only could all cats in the Felida family compete in sleeping as an Olympic trial, but where they snooze, and with whom they choose to catnap, is quite particular for these felines.

Cat guardians have seen the amusing and strange ways cats sleep. We have noticed how often they sleep, and where they sleep.  But why they are choosing these places, spaces, and bedfellows is linked to their ancestors.  So is the fact that house cats are crepuscular:  They are biologically programmed to be most active/ awake in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.

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Knox Zydeco and Mr. Beaux catching some zzzzs & rays on their catio

Pumas may not have the option of  passing out on an enclosed patio, but they do have comparable choices about where they sleep in their native, wild habitats.  Pumas, like our house cats, need to find safe sleeping spots. These places must be located where it’s unlikely other predators / potential threats can harm them or disturb them.

“So, like your housecat loves to sleep in the sunny warmth of a windowsill, pumas like to maximize their exposure to the sun’s rays That meant many bed sites were on south-facing slopes, where the warmth from the sun is strongest.” –  Anna Kusler

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Warmth, secrecy and escape routes are key factors for felines when they need rest. (Photo: Tony Campbell/Shutterstock)

 


Considering Cats and Cougars

As we wrap this cougar chat up, I’d like for you to consider something about your cat at home.  The next time you spot your house cat snoozing in a sack, inside an empty box, on a shelf, or any other safe cozy place, consider how this behavior is inextricably linked to their wild ancestors.  Your feline family member has the same innate desire and need to remain silent and hidden, just like the puma napping under the boughs of a tree or the crags of a cliff, perched high above the world.  Once we know this, and recognize the importance of this, we can properly provide our house cats with the safe spaces, and cozy places they need … just like their wild feline ancestors.

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“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”― Anaïs Nin

 


References & Recommended Reading:

Why Cats Like Boxes AND Need Them!

Estimating Abundances of Interacting Species Using Morphological Traits, Foraging Guilds, and Habitat

Felidae Species List by Genus

Adaptive social strategies in a solitary carnivore

About Panthera

“Microsite Selection and the Informed Planter”. http://www.for.gov.bc.ca. Retrieved 2016-12-14.

Bed site selection by a subordinate predator: an example with the cougar (Puma concolor) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Are pumas subordinate carnivores, and does it matter?

Characterization of puma–livestock conflicts in rangelands of central Argentina

The challenge of monitoring elusive large carnivores: An accurate and cost-effective tool to identify and sex pumas (Puma concolor) from footprints

The work of carnivore biologist Jonatan Borling

International Urban Wildlife Conference, June 4 – 7, 2017 | San Diego, California

A single migrant enhances the genetic diversity of an inbred puma population

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Cross-Species Transmission: Implications for Emergence of New Lentiviral Infections

 Removing the Eastern Puma (=Cougar) From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife- Now Extinct

Crepuscular Cats!

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A firefly (Photuris lucicrescens) or “lightning bug” is a crepuscular beetle

Myth:  Cats are nocturnal.

Fact:  The domestic house cat (Felis silvestris catus) is actually crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn.  Most indoor cats follow a very specific trend of dawn and dusk activity, rather than strictly at night.  

Crepuscular behavior is also one of the reasons why cats wake us up every morning at the Same. Darn. Time.

cat night vision
Cats and fireflies are both crepuscular!

Crepuscular Critters!

Crepuscular animals are species that are active primarily during twilight (at dawn and dusk). They tend to sleep at night and lay low during midday, when the sun is at its peak, reserving their energy when it’s hottest.  The word crepuscular is derived from the Latin crepusculum, meaning “twilight”.   Crepuscular behavior differs from diurnal and nocturnal behavior, which respectively peak during hours of daylight and darkness.  However, crepuscular critters can also be active on a bright moonlit night, or on an overcast day.  Some animals that are casually described as nocturnal are actually crepuscular.  There are subdivisions of crepuscular animals.  Matutinal animals are most active in the morning, while vespertine animals are most active at dusk.

I hesitate to state that every house cat is crepuscular, but most indoor cats do fall under the crepuscular category.   However, it’s important to note that companion cats have adapted to our schedules so that each individual cat, whether a stray alley cat or pampered house cat, can change their activity level at will, choosing to become less nocturnal or more diurnal in response to their environment or the routine of their humans.

 

The time of day when cats are most active may not be all hard-wired genetically, but may vary according to their lifestyle, which is greatly influenced by the human in their house.  This was revealed in a scientific study.  The results showed that there was a “high influence of human presence, and human care on the amount of activity in cats”.  This means that many companion cats will adapt their activity levels according to how they are cared for by their person, and the routines that the person has in their home.  It seems that many house cats are more “in sync” with their people than previously believed!

 

Feral cats’ daily activity patterns—sleeping during the day and being active at night, which likely reflects the behavior of their prey, lets them better avoid humans—was very different from kitties with homes.  Those animals were most active in the morning and evening, when their owners were likely home and awake. ~ The Secret Lives of Feral Cats

 

Knox, our youngest cat is a perfect example of a crepuscular kitty - most active at dawn and dusk, and sleeping mostly during the day and night.
Knox, our youngest cat is a perfect example of a crepuscular kitty – most active at dawn and dusk, and sleeping mostly during the day and night.

 

Fast Feline Fact:  Most cats will sleep up to 16 hours a day, and older cats will sleep as much as 20 hours a day!  These sleeping times vary in individual cats and in each home, but most sleep is during the daytime.  When cats are most active is dependent on the home environment and how in sync they are with the sun, or their human’s schedule.


 

Some people live with felines that hide away all day in their secretive, quiet spots in the house while the humans or other animals are awake and moving about.  If this is the case, then chances are your Secretive Kitties will creep out at night when the coast is clear.  One of my feline companions, Samantha, loved to explore the house when the people and the annoying Kitty Boys were asleep.  She would wait until the house was “sleeping”, then romp around, playing with toys and jumping about when she thought no one was watching.  She loved to explore every nook and cranny of the house when she knew it was safe.  The prime real-estate window that was claimed during the day became her throne at night.

Samantha and the kitty boys are much like the average cat that sleeps between 12 and 20 hours every day, but they had very different schedules that fit their feline needs.  While this varies from cat to cat, most of a cat’s sleep takes place during the daytime.  This daytime hiding and sleeping behavior tends to make humans believe that cats are nocturnal.  If we rarely see them during the day and then see them come out at night when they are most comfortable, we assume they are nocturnal.   However, true nocturnal animals hunt, forage, eat, bathe, etc. at night.

Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by activity during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is “nocturnal”.  Nocturnal animals are more active at night than during the day.  These animals sleep during the day, often in a burrow or den. Many animals, like desert animals, are nocturnal in order to escape extreme daytime heat.

Hedgehogs, red-eyed treefrogs and barn owls are true nocturnal species
Hedgehogs, red-eyed treefrogs and barn owls are true nocturnal species

 


 Older Cats and Outdoor Cats

Outdoor cats tend to display more nocturnal behaviors, due to their natural hunting instinct and their ability to follow through on this powerful innate need to hunt, capture, and kill prey.  Scientists believe that nighttime is when cats’ prey is most active outdoors.  Therefore hunting is best at this time. This behavior stems from their lineage as desert cats, where nighttime temperatures were cooler, and prey was more available.

Panthers are also crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn)!  They tend to rest during the daytime, then travel long miles to hunt during the cooler hours of the evening and early morning.
Panthers are also crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn)! They tend to rest during the daytime, then travel long miles to hunt during the cooler hours of the evening and early morning.

 

Younger cats tend to stay up at night, because they instinctively know that this is “prime hunting time”.  But as cats grow older, they will adapt to the sleeping patterns of their home environment.  Eventually these cats will become more crepuscular.  I have seen this happen with our two older male cats. They sleep most of the day, are very active early in the morning (dawn), very active at dusk, but sleep again when the rest of the humans (and dog) are asleep at night.  Our youngest cat stays up later than the older boys, but he does eventually come to bed after he is done exploring the quiet house.

Scottish wildcat
Scottish wildcats are active at dawn and dusk when hunting or marking territory

Fun Feline Facts:

Cats’ night time vision is far superior to that of humans, however they can’t see in total darkness.  The structure of a cat ’s eye allows them to see well in low light.  Cats only need 1/6 of the light humans do in order to decipher shapes.  The muscles of the cat’s iris surrounding the pupils are constructed to allow the eye to narrow to a vertical slit in bright light and to open fully in very dim light, to allow maximum illumination.  These special feline features developed for survival purposes, as wild cats are nocturnal and do much of their hunting at night.

cats eye
Cat night vision is far superior to humans, but they cannot see in total darkness

A reflective layer behind the cat’s retina called the tapetum lucidum reflects incoming light and bounces it back off the cones, making more use of the existing light.  The tapetum is what we see in action when light hits a cat’s eyes at night, you see shiny green orbs.


Felis silvestris catus Sundials

Cats are such great examples of sundials.  They naturally define their life by the sun.  Most cats who are in sync with the sun’s movement will be active at dawn and dusk.  This is because it’s part of their natural feline biology.  It’s instinctive!  I encourage you to be a Conscious Companion and start to observe how your cat moves with the sun around the house throughout the day. See if your cat is more in sync with your human schedule, or with the sun’s movement.

Cat Sundial


Does your feline fit in the crepuscular category, or do they hideaway during the day and release their inner wildcat at night? Please share in the comment section below!