The cougar is known by many names including the panther, puma, catamount, and mountain lion. Although once found throughout much of North America, cougars are now absent from many regions where they once were common, including western North Carolina.
Cougars are large, muscular cats. They average 7 to 9 feet in total length of which up to a third is tail and weigh between 150 and 200 pounds when full grown. An adult cougar is tan colored with black coloration on the sides of it's muzzle, the backs of the ears, and the tip of the tail. Cougar kittens are mottled with black spots and have ringed tails until they are about 6 months old.
Cougars are secretive, solitary hunters that feed primarily on white-tailed deer but will also eat smaller game such as opossums, rabbits, mice, and even insects if food supplies are limited. Cougars are skilled night hunters with excellent eyesight and superb hearing. They run swiftly, are agile climbers, and can even swim. Rather than simply chasing after their food, cougars prefer stalking their prey at close range, utilizing the element of surprise. At the last moment, a cougar may leap as far as 20 feet or more onto the animal's back. Strong jaws and long canine teeth then make it possible for cougars to kill their prey with one bite to the nape of the neck. After an initial feeding, a cougar may cover the carcass with leaves or other debris to be saved for a later meal.
Cougars can occupy a variety of habitats from coastal swamps to mountain slopes. These large predators require extensive, undisturbed forested areas that also support adequate white-tailed deer populations.
Cougars begin breeding at about 3 years of age and may mate during any season. Typical litters of 1 to 6 kittens are born after a gestation period of 82 to 98 days. Their eyes open in 8 or 9 days and the young are weaned in 2 to 3 months, though the kittens may remain with the mother into their second year.