The Field Guides
The Field Guides
The Field Guides
Ep. 63 - Field Trip!: On the Trail of the Florida Panther
1 hour 12 minutes Posted Feb 22, 2024 at 2:00 am.
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Show notes

Florida Panthers (Puma concolor couguar) are a distinct population of pumas that live predominantly in southwest Florida. Pumas used to roam the entire United States, but habitat loss and overhunting in the 1800’s and early 1900’s caused them to disappear from much of their range. Every breeding population of pumas East of the Mississippi river vanished, except for one. South Florida, due to its wild and swampy nature, was able to thwart human development just enough for its inhabiting pumas to narrowly avoid oblivion. These surviving pumas, or Florida Panthers, represent the resiliency of wild south Florida. The decades since their near extinction have been filled with controversy, conservation, and politics. This iconic cat still has many challenges to face, and with only 200 or so remaining in the wild, their future is uncertain. 

Daniel was first introduced unofficially to this animal during his first trip to Everglades National Park in 2017. The Florida Panther and the swampy, remote areas in which they are found captivated Daniel’s imagination. Every subsequent trip to the Everglades and southwest Florida had at least some time dedicated to searching for this cat, all to no avail. In January 2024, after spending months preparing and researching, Daniel embarked on a five-day solo trip in the backcountry of the Big Cypress National Preserve, with the sole objective of finally crossing paths with a panther.

But what exactly IS a Florida Panther? Are they only found in Florida? Are they black? What is the difference between a Florida Panther and a mountain lion? And of course… do they eat people?! 

Luckily, Bill was able to meet Daniel in south Florida to record an episode about the Florida Panther and tackle the questions and misconceptions that leave this cat shrouded in mystery. 

This episode was recorded on January 8th, 2024 at Everglades National Park in Homestead, FL.   

Episode Notes

When Daniel was talking about Florida Panther size, they were described as smaller than other pumas out west. It should also be noted that while they do fall to the bottom of the size and weight scale of pumas in North America, the populations of pumas closer to the equatorial rain forests in South America are even smaller. This reinforces the notion discussed in the podcast that pumas in colder climates or higher elevation tend to be larger than pumas in warmer climates and lower elevation. 

Also, Bill asked Daniel what their life span was, and Daniel was not sure.  Bill guessed 20-30 years. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Panthers can live up to 20 years or more in the wild. Female kittens have a good chance of living 10 years or more. Males have a tougher time, but if they survive to five or six years old, they are likely to live even longer to 10 or more years.” Nicely done Bill!

While discussing vehicular collisions as the number one cause of death of Florida Panther, Bill and Daniel discussed how in 2023, 13 Florida Panthers were killed by vehicular strikes. So far in 2024, there have been five. 

Bill and Daniel referred to the rule about animals being larger the farther you get from the equator, but they couldn’t remember the name of the rule. It’s Bergmann’s Rule, and it’s defined as:  “one of the best-known generalizations in zoology. It is generally defined as a within-species tendency in homeothermic (warm-blooded) animals to have increasing body size with increasing latitude and decreasing ambient temperature. That is, Bergmann's rule states that among mammals and birds, individuals of a particular species in colder areas tend to have greater body mass than individuals in warmer areas. For instance, white-tailed deer are larger in Canada than in the Florida Keys, and the body size of wood rat populations are inversely correlated with ambient temperature. This principle is named after a nineteenth-century German biologist, Karl Bergmann, who published observations along these lines in 1847.” - from The New World Encyclopedia

Links 

Panther Pulse, the database containing documented Florida Panther deaths and depredations: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/panther/pulse/

Path of the Panther: https://pathofthepanther.com 

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Works Cited

Caudill, Gretchen & Onorato, Dave & Cunningham, Mark & Caudill, Danny & Leone, Erin & Smith, Lisa & Jansen, Deborah. (2019). Temporal Trends in Florida Panther Food Habits. Human-Wildlife Interactions. 13. 87-97. 10.26076/kta5-cr93.

Cox, J. J., Maehr, D. S., & Larkin, J. L. (2006). Florida Panther Habitat Use: New Approach to an Old Problem. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 70(6), 1778–1785. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4128112

Frakes RA, Belden RC, Wood BE, James FE (2015) Landscape Analysis of Adult Florida Panther Habitat. PLOS ONE 10(7): e0133044.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0133044

Hostetler JA, Onorato DP, Nichols JD, Johnson WE, Roelke ME, O'Brien SJ, Jansen D, Oli MK. Genetic Introgression and the Survival of Florida Panther Kittens. Biol Conserv. 2010 Nov 1;143(11):2789-2796. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.07.028. PMID: 21113436; PMCID: PMC2989677.

Johnson WE, Onorato DP, Roelke ME, Land ED, Cunningham M, Belden RC, McBride R, Jansen D, Lotz M, Shindle D, Howard J, Wildt DE, Penfold LM, Hostetler JA, Oli MK, O'Brien SJ. Genetic restoration of the Florida panther. Science. 2010 Sep 24;329(5999):1641-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1192891. PMID: 20929847; PMCID: PMC6993177.

Land, Darrell & Shindle, David & Kawula, Robert & BENSON, JOHN & LOTZ, MARK & Onorato, Dave. (2010). Florida Panther Habitat Selection Analysis of Concurrent GPS and VHF Telemetry Data. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 72. 633 - 639. 10.2193/2007-136.

Maehr, David S. (1997).  The Florida Panther: Life and Death of a Vanishing Carnivore.  Island Press ISBN 155963507X, 9781559635073

Pienaar, Elizabeth & Rubino, Elena. (2016). Habitat Requirements of the Florida Panther. 10.13140/RG.2.1.1887.2722.

Robert A. Frakes, Marilyn L. Knight, Location and extent of unoccupied panther (Puma concolor coryi) habitat in Florida: Opportunities for recovery, Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 26, 2021, e01516, ISSN 2351-9894, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01516. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989421000664)

Urbanizing Landscape. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 15;10(7):e0131490. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131490. PMID: 26177290; PMCID: PMC4503643.

Vickers TW, Sanchez JN, Johnson CK, Morrison SA, Botta R, Smith T, Cohen BS, Huber PR, Ernest HB, Boyce WM. Survival and Mortality of Pumas (Puma concolor) in a Fragmented, Urbanizing Landscape. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 15;10(7):e0131490. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131490. PMID: 26177290; PMCID: PMC4503643.

Photo Credit

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Everglades_National_Park_Florida_Panther.jpg?uselang=en#Licensing