One of the most well-known species throughout Florida is the Florida panther or Felis concolor coryi. These large felines were voted as Florida’s state animal in 1982 by students throughout the state. Sadly, these panthers have been on the endangered species list since 1967 with no signs of population increases. The future of these large predators depends on education of the public and management techniques made on their behalf. Currently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for protecting and managing this species.
The Florida panther is a subspecies of Puma concolor. They represent the only breeding population of puma in the eastern United States and are often referred to as mountain lions, cougars or pumas. Adult panthers are tan with a dark brown or rust coloration on their backs. Their undersides are white and the tip of their tails, ears, and muzzles are somewhat black. Adult panthers require large, open areas of appropriate habitat to meet their territorial, reproductive and energetic needs.
The Florida panther is considered an umbrella species, or a species whose protection indirectly protects many other species within their natural ecosystems. As an apex predator, these felines are extremely important to the food chain and they help to keep certain populations in check, including feral hogs, deer, and raccoons.
Typically, Florida panthers are solitary unless a pair is mating or a female is raising her cubs. Mating season runs from November to March and pairs may stay together for up to a week while they hunt and sleep. After breeding, the female will be pregnant for up to 3 months. She will eventually give birth to a litter of one to four kittens in an open area that is surrounded by dense thickets of tall grasses or palms. At birth, kittens are tan and covered in large black spots. These spots help to camouflage the kittens under dense vegetation. As they grow, the spots will begin to fade away and will eventually disappear into adulthood. Kittens will stay with their mother for a little over a year before they venture off to find their own territories.
Today, the Florida panther is in danger of becoming extinct. There are less than 100 Florida panthers left in the wild and those numbers are steadily declining. The remaining population is restricted to less than five percent of their original historic range. Their greatest threats include habitat loss, vehicle collisions and genetic diseases caused from interbreeding. Unfortunately, the majority of their threats stem from human causes. Florida panthers are rarely seen by people, and they normally live in undeveloped areas. However, this species is becoming more common in residential communities because natural areas they used to roam are being developed. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to always observe wildlife from a safe distance.
For more information on the Florida panther please visit the FWC website, or download this brochure for guidelines of how to live safely in Florida panther country. Remember, that their best chance of survival is to meet their territorial and reproductive needs.