Warm climate, exotic beaches, vibrant nightlife, theme parks, oranges – Florida is famous for many things.
We could make a list of interesting things you can find here in the southeastern part of the country. But it would be a long time before we called it a day. Rather, we’ll just say that if you visit Florida, you’ll either find something you love or discover a new love.
And if you are a wildlife buff like us, Florida has something you must not avoid– Florida panthers.
Florida Panthers (Puma concolor couguar) is one of the most loved wild cat species. These big members of the cat family are just one of the several attractions in Florida. But for someone who cares about animals, Florida panthers are often near the top of the ‘DO NOT FORGET’ list.
Popular by many other names, including Florida cougar and Costa Rican puma, Florida panthers are a subspecies of cougar. Besides bobcats, they are the only wild cat species you’ll find in Florida. They are among the rarest animals in the country and almost exclusively exist in South Florida.
Let’s discuss some surprising Florida Panther facts that’ll deepen your familiarity with these wild cats!
They have a uniquely identifiable tail.
Who said you need to be a wildlife expert to identify different varieties of animals? Whoever said that might be right, but not when talking about the Florida Panthers. Their tails are enough to identify them at first sight.
A Florida panther’s tail is unique. The tail is sufficiently long, almost as long as the body. But what distinguishes a Florida panther from other long-tailed cats is the black tip at the end of its tail. Yes, the tail has a black or dark-brown tip. These small patches of dark-brown or black areas are also present at the tips of the nose and ears.
Another striking feature of a Florida panther’s tail is its kinked end. This feature is prevalent in around 88% of all Florida panthers. But unfortunately, this feature is not a natural trait due to a lack of genetic diversity. Although kinked tails also occur in other puma populations, they are not as common anywhere as in Florida panthers.
They are fast runners and silent hunters.
Florida panthers are wild cats. And like other wild cats, they are as efficient at hunting down their prey as they should be.
Their hunting patterns are highly efficient. They stalk their prey – mostly at night – for long distances until they come dangerously close. Once this happens, they swiftly attack their prey from behind, allowing little room for escape. Unlike lions, they don’t chase their prey in groups before attacking them.
But does that mean they can’t run fast? Hardly.
A Florida panther can run up to 35 miles per hour (over 56 km per hour), albeit for short stretches of around a hundred yards. Their favorite food is white-tailed deer, hogs, and dogs. But they also like to prey on smaller animals such as raccoons, rabbits, and armadillos.
Their numbers have shrunk dramatically from their historical figures.
With a population of over 21 million, Florida is the third-most populated state in the United States. But when it comes to the population of Florida panthers, the situation is the stark opposite. The population of these wild cats has been a matter of concern for the past several years.
Today, Florida panthers are endemic to southern Florida, south of Orlando. But in the 19th century, they existed throughout much of the southeastern part of the States. In addition to Florida, they lived in abundance in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and even Arkansas. In other words, they inhabited much of the southeastern part of the U.S.
Today, these cats have become endemic to Florida, with a handful of males occasionally straying off to Georgia. They have found a home in the Everglades and continue to thrive in a population of around 230. They currently thrive in tropical hardwood hammocks, swamp forests, and pinelands – just 5% of their historical range.
Florida panthers don’t attack humans (But they’re no pets).
Florida panthers are wild animals weighing anywhere between 60 to 100 pounds. With a body length of up to seven feet and a shoulder height of 60-70 cm, these puma subspecies are much bigger than domestic cats but much smaller than other wild cats.
Their mid-range size might make you think, “Are they dangerous? Or are they cute, like pet cats?” Well, we have some news.
First off, they are cute if you look at them that way. But can you treat them as domestic cats? You’d better look out for some real pets.
One of the most important Florida Panther facts – one that some residents often seem to ignore – is that they are not pets. While you can get a permit to keep them as pets, we’d strongly recommend against it.
This is because the panthers are, by instinct, wild; used to the freedom of the wilderness. They’re also pure carnivores, but you needn’t worry about them threatening your life. Our wild friends don’t seem to have much interest in our flesh. They usually focus on their natural prey and have never attacked humans on record. And even if they did, they are less likely to harm you if you are vigilant.
If you ever encounter a Florida panther face-to-face, don’t run away. Running away can make them chase you. Just look straight into their eyes. Remember that they are roughly the same size as you are (if you are an adult). Grab a stick or stone if you can find one, and try to scare them away without hurting them.
Most of the time, the above measures are sufficient to make them back off. So you don’t need to panic.
They live in large territories and protect them aggressively.
What is the most common trait among all wild cats? The one of maintaining a territory and protecting it with all power. And Florida Panthers are no exception to this rule.
These cats live in large territories that can span up to 277 square miles for males and 153 square miles for females. A Florida panther is very possessive of its territory and can become quite aggressive if an intruder tries to cross the boundary. However, the range of a female can overlap with a male’s, although they usually don’t live together.
A Florida panther marks its territory for identification. They usually do this by marking tree barks with their claws. Or by defecating or urinating on the top of a pile of leaves or soil.
Florida Panthers cannot roar.
We like jokes, but we aren’t kidding– not this time, at least. Florida Panthers don’t roar because they simply can’t. Their voice boxes don’t allow them to make that kind of sound. But you know what? They are not alone.
Not every wild cat can roar like a lion, tiger, or jaguar. Other than house cats, bigger cats like bobcats, ocelots, lynxes, and cheetahs cannot roar. Nor can cougars. And since Florida panthers are indeed a cougar subspecies, they, too, can’t roar but purr.
As they can’t roar, they are quieter than other roaring big cats like tigers and lions. Instead of roaring, they use other forms of vocalization, like purring and growling.
They can also hiss, snarl, meow, or yowl to communicate with others. And as we mentioned earlier, they use various marking techniques to convey their messages to others without making a sound.
They are solitary creatures (but not in mating season).
Florida Panthers are largely solitary creatures who live alone in the wild, hunting and preying on smaller creatures. They don’t live in groups, nor do they hunt together. Even males and females do not interfere in each other’s lives.
However, the mating season brings the males and females together. It begins in November and continues till March. This is usually the only time when the two groups live together for some time.
The males have multiple female partners and rule territories that overlap several female territories. The female panthers who are ready to mate leave scent markings for the males. The male panthers then look out for females using these markings and breed with them.
The mating period usually lasts for a week. It is during this time that they live and hunt together.
The kittens are born with blue eyes, which later become yellow.
The Florida panthers have beautiful yellow eyes, a solid brown-colored body, and a creamy white belly. But their kittens are definitely way more beautiful and cuter!
Another one of the surprising Florida Panther facts is that they aren’t born with yellow eyes! After a three-month gestation period, the female panther gives birth to one to three kittens. These kittens are initially blind at birth and have black or brownish-black spots over their bodies. These spots help camouflage them to protect them from predators.
When their eyes open, they are blue. But they gradually change into yellow as the kitties grow older. During the first few weeks of their life, the kittens live in dens. The location of these dens– created by the mothers– depends on the prey availability.
After the first two months, the kittens start moving out of their little dens and hunting with their mother. The spots fade away after six months, but only after two years do the little panthers become independent.
Many Florida Panthers are run down by vehicles every year.
Florida is one of the most happening states in the country. A lot of activity is always on the ground. This means many things. But more than anything else, it means increased traffic and, in turn, increased road accidents.
For Florida panthers, roads have become a big problem. Many unfortunate panthers have lost their lives while trying to cross the roads running through their habitat.
Most of these panther accidents happen due to careless drivers not pulling the brakes on time. The common hotspots for these accidents are State Road- 29 and Alligator Alley.
As a result, the state of Florida has made some preventive efforts. These measures include the installation of road signs, headlight reflectors, and rumble strips to alert travelers crossing a panther-inhabited zone.
Before We Part
The Florida panther is an interesting member of the cat family that has become endemic to the southern part of Florida. These panthers are somewhat similar and different from other big cat species in the wild.
We absolutely and whole-heartedly loved creating this list of interesting Florida Panther facts for you. Now we want to hear your opinion. Did you enjoy reading our blog? If you’re into exploring the world of big cats, here’s another blog about the Bengal Tigers that we wouldn’t want you to miss out on.