Angela, an animal lover, has a passion for learning and understanding God's creatures. As a born teacher, she enjoys sharing her knowledge.
What Is the Florida Panther Like?
Appearance: Its tan-gray or red-tan color fur characterize the Florida Panther. They have white on the muzzle, chest, and underbelly. Its paws are smaller than other large cats, yet its legs are slightly longer. Many Florida Panthers will have white specks on the fur, although this may result from ticks rather than the actual coloring of the animal. Unlike most other pumas, they have a crooked tail and an odd swirl of hair on the midsection of their back. These are believed to result from inbreeding, which causes genetic abnormalities. Panthers can live up to 12-15 years in the wild but often die in infancy.
Gender Differences: Generally, males are larger than females at about seven feet long, including their tail. Despite their enormous size, they only weigh around 130 pounds, which is only a third of the average weight of a male lion. The largest panther ever captured was 154 pounds in Hendry County. Females are about a foot shorter and weigh anywhere between 60 to 100 pounds.
Paw Tracks: Florida Panther tracks are unique. The pad of the paw has three sections, yet four toes, which causes it to be asymmetrical, which differs from a dog print, which is symmetrical. The claws retract; therefore, they rarely show up in a pawprint. The front paws are wider than their back, although often in panther tracks, the prints will overlap since their front paw usually will hit the same spot as the hind paw.
Communication: They communicate with one another by using low growls, chirps, hisses, whistles, and even purring sounds, although they are most well known for their screams, unique to the Florida panther.
What Do Panthers Eat?
Like most felines, Florida Panthers are nocturnal hunters and are most active during dusk and dawn. They spend most of their waking hours traveling in a zig-zag pattern up to 15-20 miles in one day. During the day, they rest to keep out of the heat and sun.
The Hunt: Unlike many of their feline cousins, they do not mind getting wet and are willing to swim across large bodies of water, like lakes. Although they prefer to be on land where they can travel much faster, some can run up to 35 mph. Unfortunately, they do not have much endurance and can only keep up this pace for short periods. For this reason, they choose stealth as their primary hunting tactic. They would rather sneak attack their prey than chase them. Fortunately, they have an excellent sense of smell and can see 130 degrees in their peripheral vision, which benefits them for surprise attacks.
The Prey: Florida Panthers eat many of the native animals in Florida, even small alligators. They commonly eat whitetail deer, raccoon, wild hog, armadillo, and small rodents or fowl. A deer or boar will satisfy them for several days, but they will eat smaller animals when larger prey is unavailable. After a large catch, they bury the remainder of their game until their next meal.
The Feast: They kill their prey by biting the back of the neck or throat. Their teeth will leave deep marks two inches apart. Due to their extensive traveling, they require many calories per day. Most adults need 3,000 calories per day, a pregnant female needs 8,000 calories, and a growing kitten may need 20,000.
What Are Their Breeding Habits?
When a female is ready to mate, she will mark her area with a distinctive scent, which alerts the male it is time. Since females mature more quickly than males, they have been known to have kittens as young as 18 months old, but they usually wait until they are fully grown, which is when they are two to three years old.
Panthers mate most often during the winter and spring, but they will at any time of the year. The gestation period is 92 to 96 days, and a litter can consist of up to four kittens. Most are born in the late spring. Unfortunately, rarely do all four survive into adulthood. They stay with their mother until they are one to two years old. Their mother usually will have their next litter around this time.
When kittens are born, they have blue eyes and spotted fur. They usually do not open their eyes for two to three weeks until they are ready to walk. The mother will leave for days at a time to hunt throughout the first two months of their life, yet the kittens survive well between their opportunities to suckle. At two months, they eat meat for the first time. Unfortunately, since the mother must leave for days at a time, it leaves the baby panthers very vulnerable to many things that could harm them. Once they reach six months, their risks significantly decrease as they can defend themselves and begin to hunt. Before this point, their den is their primary source of safety, so it is essential to preserve a healthy habitat for panthers to reside.
Where Do The Florida Panther Live?
Preserving forests, grasslands, and other areas rich in vegetation give many opportunities for the Florida Panthers to build dens, which offers these endangered animals a fighting chance of replenishing their population.
They prefer to build a den where the palmetto thicket is tall. The taller the thicket, the better it serves as a shelter for the kittens against rain and sun exposure. As the thicket bows over, it keeps the land much cooler than places outside the den. When choosing the best location, they will try to find a bare, dry spot under the thickets, far from people's sounds. Unfortunately, these animals have gotten used to hearing human sounds. Since they have become accustomed to our noises, they have moved closer to us, putting the animal in harm's way, such as being hit by vehicles or men killing them out of fear when they see them on their land.
In Florida, most of these felines live in the southern part of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River. Only 30-50 of them are still in the wild; the majority live in one of the national parks. The parks are a significantly smaller territory than where they used to live. They traveled to several states, such as Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Slowly they were pushed out of many of these regions as people gained more land.
For the most part, Panthers are solitary animals and do not live in a pride, nor do they stay with the same mate. One panther needs a large area where they can hunt and live away from other cats; this is another reason their population has dwindled. Many territories will overlap with potential mates, but a male will not share an environment with another male. They will fight to the death if a cat trespasses on another's homeland.
Males tend to have the most land at around 250 square miles, which gives a lot of potential for different mates. Females, generally more tolerant of sharing with either sex, range from 70-200 square miles of land.
Despite their independent spaces, they usually will live near each other. The older, more established Florida Panthers will live in the center. In contrast, the younger panthers will live on the perimeters of a habitat, putting young panthers at higher risk of being harmed since they live so close to human civilization.
Each panther will mark its territory with markings called scat. Scat is a clump of leaves and earth on which they urinate or defecate. They will rake the leaves and ground up with their hind claws until it is at least six inches in length, claiming that land as their own.
Florida Panther Habitat
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Why Is the Florida Panther Endangered?
For years, Florida Panthers flourished throughout the eastern United States. Unfortunately, humans viewed them as a threat; therefore, they began to hunt and trap them. By the mid-1950s, these beautiful cats almost became extinct. By 1967, the U.S. Department of the Interior classified them as endangered. Unfortunately, humans still fear them today, which is why many programs trying to encourage population growth are trying to address the social opposition to panthers. In 1981, the first Florida Panther Recovery Plan began by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, we have seen some growth in their number in the wild.
Unfortunately, the greatest threat to these large cats remains. This greatest threat is the severely decreasing habitat. As a result of the loss of habitable land, there are a lot of dangers that have arisen, which would not usually be there. They also have hazards that would be present even in the most accommodating circumstances, such as catfights, rabies, feline distemper, feline leukemia, and Feline AIDS, as well as the occasional parasite tapeworm, hookworm, ringworm, etc.
In addition to these natural dangers, they have been subject to decreasing populations due to inbreeding. Inbreeding is dangerous to the population because it results in congenital heart defects, reduces overall fitness, increases testicle abnormalities and abnormal semen, etc.
Also, they are living closer and closer to human civilization. Although illegal hunting is rare in Florida, collisions with motor vehicles are rising. In addition to decreasing land, there are reduced numbers of prey available to them. As humans move in, their prey moves out, which causes them to have to hunt for more extended periods, resulting in undernourishment, starvation, and overall poor health.
As a result of the limited territory, the number of them in the wild is diminishing. Fortunately, there has been a slight increase in the past few years due to several programs implemented in South Florida, such as the Genetic Restoration Program and National Wildlife Refuges. Some of these programs try to reintroduce the panther in previously native areas where they have gone extinct. Hopefully, opening up more territories where they can roam will allow the population to increase. Humankind needs to be conscientious of taking care of the land. The Panthers still have to preserve this species.
15 Florida Panthers Killed
- Information on the Endangered Florida Panther | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_7384223_information-endangered-florida-panther.html#ixzz265ogryDm
- Florida Panther Endangered Species Act | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_6742708_florida-panther-endangered-species-act.html#ixzz265outgud
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz
Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 30, 2012:
Thank you so much for the sweet compliments.
Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on September 30, 2012:
Very nice page Angela about an animal which should definitely be protected and extended in its range. (If a country like the USA cannot enable its large wildlife to thrive, how can we expect a third world country of limited resources to look after its wildlife?). Very well written with good photos, map and video. Voted up. Alun.
Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 23, 2012:
Oh, that is so sad.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on September 22, 2012:
Such beautiful creatures. My parents used to go to Florida every winter and once saw a panther, dead, hit by a car at the side of the road. So sad. It sounded, from what they described, like a young one.
Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 17, 2012:
Mary, I believe there are only 500 in the wild left right now.
I'm glad you both enjoyed the article.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 16, 2012:
It's sad to hear about the Florida Panther's problems. They are certainly beautiful creatures. Thank you for all the interesting information.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on September 16, 2012:
Since I live in S. Fl. I was drawn to your Hub on the Florida Panther. You wrote a very informative and interesting Hub. I wrote a Hub about the wildlife in Florida. I invite you to read mine when you have the time. I wonder how many of these beautiful animals there are left now in Fl.?
I voted this Hub UP, and will share.
Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 16, 2012:
jellygator from USA on September 14, 2012:
They certainly are beautiful! It's a shame that human fear has led to their near-extinction.
Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 14, 2012:
They really leave them alone, they are not a threat, and that is part of what the Wildlife and Fish Reserve is trying to teach others, so that way this animals has a chance at survival.
Thanks both for your responses.
Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on September 14, 2012:
Incredible! Are they a threat to humans or do they leave them alone pretty much?
Pretty amazing Hub and so full of fascinating information about this beautiful creature, which I hope (too) will not become more extinct. Love stories of wildness, especially when it is so close to us. Our wild creature is a wild boar, nothing quite as lovely as your lovely Florida Panther. Thanks so much. Enjoyed reading it a lot.
Simon Cook from NJ, USA on September 14, 2012:
It's so sad that so many amazing animals are becoming endangered - and mostly because of Man's expansion. Great article.
Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 13, 2012:
Small alligators are not their primary source of food, it is usually what they will eat when dear or hogs are not easily accessible. By the way thanks for the great compliment.
Denise Mai from Idaho on September 13, 2012:
Very interesting article. I've never heard of this animal. They are stunningly beautiful. How fascinating that they will eat small alligators.
Thanks for sharing details about these gorgeous cats.