Physical Description

Book jacket for The Puma: Mysterious American Cat showing a puma sitting on a rock ledge
Cover of the Young and Goldman book "The Puma: Mysterious American Cat."

The panther’s scientific name is Puma concolor coryi and concolor means one color in Latin. Puma adults are a uniform tan color with lighter fur on their lower chests, belly and inner legs. Shades of individual animals may vary considerably from grayish to reddish to yellowish. This uniform color conceals them effectively in a variety of settings including the open range. Florida panthers and all other puma subspecies are never black.

Young and Goldman in their 1946 book "The Puma: Mysterious American Cat" noted that the color of pumas often matches the color of the deer, their primary prey.

Puma kittens are spotted, which helps to camouflage them in the shadows of their den. These spots fade as they approach maturity at the end of their first year. Pumas have long, round tails (nearly two-thirds the length of their head and body). Tails help balance the body, especially during ambush pounces on prey.

Male panthers are larger than female panthers. They weigh from 100 to 160 pounds; female panthers weigh from 70 to 100 pounds. Panthers vary in height at the shoulder from 24 to 28 inches and measure from 6 to 7.2 feet from nose to tip of the tail.

The skull of the Florida panther is distinct from other subspecies of puma. It is relatively broad and flat with highly arched nasal bones, giving the profile a rounded appearance as it transitions from the forehead to the tip of the nose.

Picture of a panther skull next to a puma skull showing a subtle arched nasal bone

Skull Morphology: "Roman Nose"

  • Florida panthers have arched nasel bones, sometimes referred to as a "Roman nose"
  • Nasals are higher (or nearly so) than rest of skull when viewed in profile
  • More easily distinguished on bare skull

 

The Florida panther often has a right angle kink at the end of its tail, a whorl of hair or a "cowlick" in the middle of its back, and white flecks in the fur on its neck and back. The kink in the tail and the whorl of hair is thought to be the result of inbreeding within a small population and are not defining characteristics of the subspecies. Kinked tails and cowlicks occur less frequently in the population following genetic management that began in 1995. Cowlicks have been reported in other subspecies of puma, but in much lower frequencies. The white flecks in the coat on the neck and back of panthers are caused by tick bites.



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