Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Frequently Asked Questions About the Florida Panther

Florida Panther. Credit: USFWS

Florida Panther. Credit: USFWS

How many Florida panthers are there?
A single wild population in south Florida of 100-160 adult panthers is all that remains of a species that once ranged throughout most of the southeastern United States. (See the Statement on Esitmating Panther Population Size for info on how this number was reached.) This remnant breeding population is in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Dade and Monroe counties. A few males have been documented in central Florida, but no females are known to be in that area. The Florida panther was eliminated over much of its historical range by the late 1800's by humanpersecution and habitat destruction. Because the panther was geographically isolated in south Florida, no natural gene exchange occurred with other puma subspecies. Inbreeding caused a decline in the health and reproduction of the few remaining panthers. By 1995, only 20-30 panthers remained in the wild. That year, eight female Texas cougars were relocated to south Florida to restore genetic variability to the population. All offspring of the Texas cougars are considered to be Florida panthers. The genetic restoration of the Florida panther was successful and the number of panthers tripled in 10 years.

How big are Florida panthers?
Adult male panthers average between 130 and 160 lbs with an average length of 6-8 feet. Adult female panthers weigh between 70-100 lbs and have an average length of 5-7 feet.

How likely am I to see a Florida panther?

If you see a Florida panther, consider yourself very lucky . These notoriously elusive animals prefer to be as far away from humans as possible. Deer, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, and even the domestic cat are often mistaken for a panther.

Are Florida panthers black?
It is a common misconception that Florida panthers are black. They are actually tawny and brown with cream or white colored undersides. Small amounts of black coloring can be found around the face, paws, legs, and tip of tail. Baby panthers are born with black spots that last approximately two months after birth. This is so that their mother can camouflage them better from potential predators.

If Florida panthers aren't black, then what IS a black panther?
There is no species of "black panther." The large black cats seen in zoos or used by media outlets are usually either the black (or melanistic) phase of jaguars or leopards. Some species of wild felines, especially those that are spotted as adults (including bobcats) have melanistic or black color phases. This color phase is unusual. However, there has never been a black or melanistic panther, cougar, or mountain lion documented in the wild or in captivity.

What is the difference between a panther and a cougar?
Mountain lions, pumas, cougars, catamounts and panthers are names for the same species: Puma concolor. Florida panthers are one of more than 20 subspecies of pumas. Scientists determine subspecies by differences in physical and genetic features. The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) has distinct morphological and genetic differences that scientists can differentiate from other Puma concolor subspecies. Even with the restoration of genetic variability from the Texas cougars in 1995, the Florida panther continues to be distinct from other subspecies of pumas. Because it is distinct from other subspecies and is a small, isolated relic population, the Florida panther is listed as a federal and state endangered species.

A panther is captured by a motion-sensor camera on the refuge. Credit: USFWS

A panther is captured by a motion-sensor camera on the refuge. Credit: USFWS

Are there behavioral differences between Florida panthers and other subspecies of Puma concolor?
There are no behavioral differences between Florida panthers and other puma subspecies.

How big is their territory?
The average male panther has a home range of approximately 150 square miles, with 200 square miles not uncommon. Males are territorial and will defend their home range against other males. A male's home range overlaps with female panthers. A female's home range is smaller, approximately 80 square miles, and overlaps with other females. It is not uncommon for a panther to travel 20 miles in a single day.

What research is being done with panthers?
Intensive radio-instrumentation and monitoring of panthers was initiated in 1981 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Information from tracking radio-collared panthers helped determine preferred habitat, home range size, dispersal behavior, and provided information on birth rates and causes of death. The research also indicated that the panther was suffering health and reproduction problems due to inbreeding. This knowledge led to the genetic restoration project involving Texas panthers. Currently, state and National Park Service biologists are tracking approximately 30 radio-collared panthers for research purposes. For more information about genetic restoration, read the US Fish & Wildlife Service's brochure on Florida Panther and the Genetic Restoration Program [pdf].

What do Florida panthers eat? A panther's main diet is white-tailed deer. They also eat armadillo, wild hog, raccoon, and the occasional alligator!

Most of the pictures I see are of panthers in trees; do Florida panthers live in trees?
No. Florida panthers prefer the ground, hardwood hammocks and upper pinelands to be specific. However, since the Florida panther is so elusive most of the pictures we have are of them trying to escape tracking dogs by running up a tree. See, panthers like to keep to themselves, so tracking dogs have to be used so that scientists can temporarily capture them to either put radio collars on them or to provide them with medical treatment.

How much of a threat are panthers to humans?
There is no recorded incidents of an attack of a Florida panther on a human. However, the rapid increase in human population will inevitably cause more human/panther interactions as we continue to destroy their habitat. To learn more about how to stay safe in panther territory, read the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's brochure on Florida Panther Safety Tips [pdf].

What are the threats to panthers?
The most profound and continuing threat to their survival can be traced to an increasing human population. As available habitat disappears due to human development and conversion to agriculture, the cats are squeezed into smaller areas, resulting in increased intra-specific aggression, which is the leading cause of panther mortality. Additionally, more development means more roads and more panthers killed by collision with vehicles. Feline leukemia, a disease transmitted to panthers by domestic cats, also kills these magnificent animals.

Why is it important to save the Florida panther?
The Florida panther serves as an umbrella species. Because the species requires such a large home range, many plants and animals benefit from its protection and the protection of its habitat. Panthers prowl the same woods as black bear, coyotes, bobcats, white-tailed deer, wild hogs and many smaller mammals. Many varieties of birds, reptiles, amphibians live side-by-side with panthers. Rare tropical plants flourish in the south Florida wilderness where panthers roam. The ground water that the environment and the local human population depend on is recharged in the large tracts of undeveloped land that is home to the 80-100 panthers. By protecting habitat for panthers, we protect our environmental heritage and health, and provide a wildlife legacy for our children and the generations to come.

What can I do to save the Florida panther?
Help educate other people about the Florida panther. If you live in panther country, learn how you, your family, and your pets and livestock can live safely with panthers and help educate your neighbors. Visit and support the public lands that provide habitat for Florida panthers and the other species that depend on that habitat. Become active in local organizations that promote the protection of wildlife and their habitat. Volunteer on a national wildlife refuge, national park, state park or forest, or local nature preserve. To learn more about how to stay safe in panther territory, read the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's brochure on Florida Panther Safety Tips [pdf].

 

Last updated: April 14, 2011