143rd ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA


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Acoustic and Functional Analysis of Mountain Lion Vocalizations

Jacquelyn Potter - Jacquelyn_Potter@yahoo.com
Graduate Program, Dept. of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University
1 University Circle

Macomb, IL 61455

Popular version of paper 3aABa183
Presented Wednesday morning, June 5, 2002
143rd ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA

Mountain lion, puma and cougar are just a few of the common names used to refer to the species Puma concolor, which once ranged across North and South America until increased hunting and loss of habitat restricted their range to mainly unpopulated areas. Mountain lions are relatively solitary but often have overlapping home ranges. Males and Females pair during the breeding season, hunting and sleeping together for about two weeks, and females remain with their young for up to 2 years. Mountain lions are the largest wild cat of North America, however they are classified as small cats based on their ability to purr like other small cats (such as domestic cats), and their inability to roar like the large cats (such as lions or tigers).

Mountain lions possess a repertoire of both non-acoustic and acoustic communication. Their non-acoustic communication consists of scratches on trees, scrapes on the ground, and urine and scat scent posts. Compared to other mammals, only a few quantitative studies have been done measuring acoustic communication in the cat family and Mountain lions are no exception to this. However, the literature is full of descriptive references to their vocalizations which include: chirps, whistles, snarls, hisses, growls, yowls, barks, and the estrous call of the female Mountain lion has been described as a bloodcurdling scream. The goals of this study were to classify vocalizations of the Mountain lion using quantitative scientific techniques, and to find out whether or not the vocalizations show correlation with behaviors, therefore possibly allowing for a basic functional classification of Mountain lion acoustic communication.

Recording Mountain lion vocal behavior required the use of remote monitoring methods on a captive population. This two-year study was conducted at Wildlife Prairie Park, which sits on approximately 2000 acres near Peoria, Illinois. The focus at Wildlife Prairie Park is on natural history of Illinois; specifically the anthropological history as well as the native plants and animals, which at one time included Mountain lions. The animals there enjoy large outdoor enclosures that allow observation and recording under semi-natural conditions. During the study, the Mountain lion population at the park consisted of three adult females (named Cleo, Hope and Polly) and an adult male (named Ceasar). Polly was the offspring of Hope and Ceasar, and shared an enclosure with Hope. They were not on birth control and were observed in estrous, whereas the other female (Cleo) shared an enclosure with Ceasar and was on birth control and was not observed in estrous. This distinction between the females presented a unique opportunity to record the effects of estrous on Mountain lion vocal behavior.

Analysis resulted in a repertoire of 17 vocalizations which were correlated with specific behaviors. These correlations allowed for development of a basic functional classification for Mountain lion vocalizations; that is whether the vocalizations were correlated with behaviors occurring during agonistic (aggressive) interactions or during non-agonistic interactions. Vocalization type and rate of usage were also found to vary by individual and season. For example, vocalization types highly correlated to estrous behaviors were only observed and recorded in Hope and Polly mostly in the spring. A few of the vocalizations recorded fit descriptions found in the literature. For instance hissing and purring were isolated as distinct sound-types and one of the vocalizations correlated with estrous behavior fits the description of the female's blood-curdling scream.

Hear the screams of two female mountain lions in estrous

Hear the long-distance calls of a female mountain lion

Hear a mountain lion purr


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