Collaring Florida Panthers and Visit to a Panther Den with Florida Wildlife Commission Biologists. Be sure to watch until the end. See the Video
Endangered Florida Panthers
Habitat loss, degradation, Vehicle strikes and fragmentation are among the greatest threats to panther survival, while human intolerance of panthers is one of the greatest threats to their recovery. Radio collars are one way we use your donations to track and treat Florida Panthers and their offspring.
It is one of the last subspecies of Puma still surviving in the Eastern United States. Historically occurring throughout the southeastern U.S., today the panther is restricted to less than 5% of its historic range in one breeding population of fewer than 100 animals located in South Florida.
They are threatened with extinction, and human development in panther habitat negatively impacts their recovery. Panthers are wide ranging and secretive, occuring at low densities. Florida Panthers require large contiguous areas to meet their social, reproductive, and energetic needs. Panther habitat selection is related to prey availability (i.e., habitats that make prey vulnerable to stalking and capturing are selected). Limiting factors for the panther are habitat availability, prey availability, and lack of human tolerance.
Less than 160 Florida Panthers left
Scientific Name: Puma concolor coryi
Territory: Although we call them Florida panthers, these shy cats once roamed throughout the entire Southeast from east Texas to the Atlantic and north to parts of Tennessee. Overhunting, loss of habitat, and reduction of their primary prey reduced their population to a remnant living on the southern tip of Florida. They prefer upland habitat but will use diverse habitats. They mainly prey on deer and hogs.
Appearance: Overall coat color is tan (not black), often darker along center of back; creamy white under; black on back of ears, muzzle, and tail tip.
Males: average 130 pounds and measure 6 to 8 feet with the tail; shoulder height of 2.6 feet; front pad width greater than 2 inches. Males defend home ranges up to 200 sq. miles that overlap ranges of several females; mature at 3 years; average lifespan of 10 years if they reach adulthood.
Females: average 80 pounds and measure 5 to 7 feet with tail; shoulder height of 2.2 feet; front pad width less than 2 inches. Females have a home range of 80 sq. miles, overlapping with other females. Females mature at 1.5 years, breed year round with peak denning period in spring, den in palmetto thickets to gestation of 3 months. A typical litter size has an average of 2 kittens. Kittens leave den at 2 months, fully independent at 1.5 years.
Weight at Birth: 4-8 ounces
Adult Shoulder Height: 2-3 feet
Adult Body Length: 5-8 feet
Diet: local wildlife, squirrels, deer
Life Span: 8-15 years in the wild, 10-20 years in captivity
Habitat: Southwestern Florida, average 100 square miles
Population: Approximately 100 in the wild
Q. What is a Florida panther?
The Florida panther is the larger of two wild cats in Florida (the smaller is the bobcat). The scientific name for the Florida panther is Puma concolor coryi. The Florida panther is a subspecies of puma, also known as mountain lion, cougar, or catamount.
Q. What cat is a Florida panther’s closest relative?
All puma subspecies (including the Florida panther) are most closely related to the cheetah and jaguarundi (a weasel-like cat found in Central and South America) based on genetic analysis.
Q. Are other subspecies of puma endangered like the Florida panther?
Only the Florida panther and Eastern cougar subspecies are considered critically endangered, although the Eastern cougar is highly suspected to be extinct. The other subspecies of puma are categorized as “near threatened.”
Q. What does a Florida panther look like?
The Florida panther is always a tan color. The tawny color is richer on the back and lighter on the belly. The adult Florida panther has amber-colored eyes and a long, black-tipped tail. Male Florida panthers tend to be larger than females. The average length (nose to tip of tail) of a male is 7 feet. The average length of a female is 6 feet. An average male Florida panther weighs 120 pounds, while an average female weighs 75 pounds. Florida panthers are usually a little taller than 2 feet high at the shoulder.
Q. What is a black panther?
A black panther is not a Florida panther. The name black panther is a common name referring to a large, black cat. The only two large wild cats that can have an all-black coat are the leopard and jaguar. Usually, these two cats have spotted coats; however, melanistic leopards or jaguars can be born (in the same litter as spotted ones) that appear to be black. Melanistic leopards or jaguars are actually a dark chocolate color and still have their spots, which can be seen in adequate sunlight. Melanism is not known to occur in Florida panthers or any other puma subspecies.
Q. How can I distinguish a Florida panther from a bobcat, the other wild cat in Florida?
The two major differences between the Florida panther and the bobcat is size and tail length. The Florida bobcat is much smaller than the Florida panther; in fact, the bobcat is not much larger than a domestic cat. The name “bobcat” reflects this cat’s short tail. The tail of a bobcat is only 5-6 inches long. Furthermore, the tip of the bobcat’s tail is black on top and white underneath. The rest of the bobcat’s fur can range in color from gray to brown to reddish-tan. The bobcat is very closely related to the lynx.
Q. How many Florida panthers are left?
About 100 cats remain in the Florida panther population. As recently as the early 1990’s, only about 30 Florida panthers existed. Although the population has recovered somewhat, the Florida panther is still critically endangered.
Q. Where do Florida panthers live?
Historically, this subspecies roamed the entire southeastern United States, including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Currently, the only remaining population is in southwest Florida.
Q. What kind of habitat does the Florida panther live in?
The Florida panther will use a variety of habitats, from marsh to hardwood hammocks. The panther prefers dry forest but will cross watery areas if necessary. One of the most important habitat types to the Florida panther is slash pine with saw palmetto understory. Florida panthers use the dense saw palmetto thickets as stalking cover while trying to sneak up on prey and as hidden dens to raise young kittens.
Q. How much space does a Florida panther need?
A male Florida panther requires about 200 square miles for a home range (territory). A female panther requires less space, about 75 square miles for a home range. A male Florida panther needs the home ranges of several females within his own home range; however, a male panther does not typically allow overlap of his home range with that of another male. Furthermore, male panthers disperse farther from their natal range (their mother’s home range) than female panthers will. This behavior is thought to decrease the likelihood of inbreeding.
Q. Where can I see a Florida panther?
Most people will never see a Florida panther, as they are quiet and elusive. Panthers do not usually walk around in broad daylight or boldly travel through developed areas. Only a very lucky person will glimpse a Florida panther in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, or Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Unfortunately, one place people do see Florida panthers is on a highway cutting through a minimally developed area (such as land north or south of Alligator Alley) after being hit by a car. Panthers attempt to cross roads in search of a home range.
Q. What does the Florida panther eat?
The main prey of the Florida panther is white-tailed deer and feral hogs. They will also eat armadillos, raccoons, birds, or small alligators.
Q. When are Florida panthers most active?
Florida panthers do most of their traveling and hunting at dawn and dusk. This activity pattern is termed crepuscular. Panthers rest during the heat of the day.
Q. How does a Florida panther hunt?
The Florida panther is an ambush predator. This means once the Florida panther locates prey nearby, he or she will remain hidden and quiet while slowly stalking and gaining ground on the prey animal. This method of hunting is related to cats’ small heart size in relation to body size. A small heart means cats are sprinters and not marathoners. Once the Florida panther is within pouncing distance, the panther will leap out of hiding and pounce on the prey. These cats kill their prey by severing the spinal cord (from a bite to the back of the neck), by suffocation (from a bite to the throat), or a bite to the skull (used on smaller animals). The panther uses its rough tongue to remove fur or feathers from the prey animal.
Q. Do Florida panthers kill humans?
No human has ever even been attacked by a Florida panther. Humans do not fit the appearance of prey that a panther looks for. Florida panthers tend to have a natural fear of people and do not show themselves.
Q. Are Florida panthers a threat to pets or livestock?
In rural areas, sometimes Florida panthers will kill a domestic pet or livestock for food, especially with human development pushing into remaining Florida panther habitat. As with most predators, if a Florida panther comes across easily accessible pets or livestock, the panther will not pass on the easy meal. Pet and livestock owners, especially in less-densely populated areas, should secure pets indoors and livestock in predator-proof pens at night.
Q. Can Florida panthers roar?
Florida panthers do not have the ability to roar; however, this means they do have the ability to purr. An anatomical difference exists that determines a cat’s ability to roar or purr. A cat species can roar when the vocal cords are thick and the larynx is flexible. A cat species can purr when the vocal cords are thinner and the hyoid apparatus (small bones that support the larynx) is more rigid. Only 4 species of cats can roar: lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars. (nhm.org/cats)
Q. What sounds does a Florida panther make?
Besides purring, Florida panthers can mew, chirp, whistle, hiss, growl, and emit a distinct scream know as the caterwaul.
Q. Do Florida panthers live in groups or families?
Florida panthers are typically solitary, like most cat species. Only lions live in groups called prides. Florida panthers come together solely for mating purposes. The only time one would see a group of panthers is when a mother panther is raising her kittens.
Q. How long do Florida panthers live?
The average lifespan for a Florida panther in the wild is 12 years.
Q. When does a Florida panther reach maturity?
A male Florida panther is sexually mature at 3 years of age, while a female is sexually mature at 18 months.
Q. When is the Florida panther mating season?
Breeding behavior peaks between December and March. Most Florida panther litters are produced between March and June, although litters have been recorded year-round.
Q. How many kittens are born in a litter?
After a gestation period of 92-96 days, an average of 2-3 kittens are born in a litter.
Q. What do Florida panther kittens look like?
Florida panther kittens are born with spotted coats and bright blue eyes, which are initially closed. The spotted coat gives the vulnerable kittens good camouflage among fallen leaf litter. Kittens weight about 1 pound at birth. The spots and eye color fade by the time the kitten is 6 months old.
Q. What senses do Florida panthers rely on?
Florida panthers mainly rely on sight and hearing while hunting. Since Florida panthers hunt at night, a membrane at the back of the eye (called the tapetum lucidum) reflects light for better night vision. This reflective membrane is the reason cats’ eyes shine in headlights. Florida panthers have round pupils, unlike domestic cats that have elliptical pupils. Cats can see in color, but not as well as humans can. It is more important for cats to see at night so they have more rods rather than cones in their eyes. Cats ears are shaped to collect sound, which they hear the best at higher frequencies than humans.
A Florida panther’s sense of smell is also important because panthers primarily use olfactory communication methods. All cats also possess a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of the mouth, which enhances the cat’s ability to sense chemicals in odors. For example, a male cat can detect a female’s reproductive state based on hormones in her excreted urine. A cat will open its mouth and curl up its top lip when pulling smells towards the vomeronasal organ.
As with other cats, a Florida panther’s whiskers (vibrissae) help sense the surroundings by touch. A cat’s whiskers can sense small changes in air currents moving around objects, so the cat has a clue where unseen objects are. Also, once a cat captures prey, the whiskers fold around the prey animal to sense in which direction it tries to escape.
Q. How do Florida panthers communicate with each other?
Florida panthers primarily use scent marking behaviors for communication. This type of communication is suited to the solitary lifestyle of Florida panthers because scents persist in the environment for a relatively long time (compared to vocalizations). Florida panthers will rub the sides of their faces on objects, releasing chemicals from scent glands on their cheeks. A Florida panther will rake its claws on tree trunks to release scent from glands on its feet. Florida panthers will also leave urine or feces in conspicuous locations. Any of these methods 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 spatial dimensions of its home range.
Q. What research is currently underway to monitor Florida panthers?
Scientists monitor Florida panthers with radio collars and automatically-triggered cameras. The radio collars allow scientists to track a panther’s movements and alert scientists to a potentially injured, dead, or denning panther with a change in beeping frequency at the receiver. Automatically-triggered cameras take pictures of panthers (and other wildlife) that walk past the camera, which is typically mounted on a tree. The pictures show visual characteristics for identifying panthers and can also reveal a panther’s health condition. The Florida Panther Capture Team goes into the field in order to initially radio collar, re-radio collar, measure, and do veterinary work-ups on the panthers.
Q. How many Florida panthers wear radio collars?
Approximately one-third of the Florida panther population wears radio collars.
Q. What are common causes of death of the Florida panther?
The causes of death are related to an increasing human population near or in Florida panther habitat. With decreasing available space, young male panthers are having a more difficult time finding an empty home range. When two male panthers meet, they often fight (intraspecific aggression) until one is killed. The number of Florida panthers killed by cars on highways is increasing, with 14 cats killed by cars in 2007. Florida panthers may also have low immune systems due to low genetic variability and succumb to diseases, such as bacterial infections, rabies, pseudorabies, or feline leukemia. Congenital heart defects can also contribute to a panther’s death.
Q. Why has the Florida panther population recently increased?
In 1995, 8 female Texas cougars were introduced to south Florida in the hopes of bolstering the Florida panthers’ low genetic variability. After some successful breeding between the female Texas cougars and male Florida panthers, the Texas cougars were removed from Florida by 2003. The increased genetic variability helped the health and reproductive capabilities of the new Florida panther kittens, which led to a larger population.
Q. Are the kittens produced by the introduced Texas cougars considered hybrids?
The original kittens produced by the matings of the female Texas cougars and male Florida panthers are considered Florida panthers (and therefore receive protection under the Endangered Species Act) because, historically, the Florida panther subspecies interbred with the Texas subspecies.
Q. Are Texas cougars more dangerous than Florida panthers?
There is no evidence that Texas cougars are more aggressive than Florida panthers.
Q. Can Florida panthers be relocated farther away from people?
Where Florida panthers currently live is the only remaining habitat in south Florida suited to their needs. Reintroduction of the Florida panther into other areas of its historic range is a possibility that, unfortunately, has not met with much public acceptance. More outreach education is necessary to bring awareness that ecosystems evolved with predators to retain an ecological balance that can enhance our quality of life.
Q. Do pumas living in Florida zoos or sanctuaries count as Florida panthers?
Only those cats part of the natural, wild population of pumas in Florida are considered Florida panthers. The vast majority of pumas in zoos and sanctuaries represent other, more common subspecies. Rarely, a Florida panther will be removed from the natural population because of difficulty surviving in the wild and moved to captivity. The Jacksonville Zoo and Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida currently have true Florida panthers.
Panther Information and Resources