Aptos Pumas Mating Pair

Like most other felines, pumas live a rather solitary life. The only prolonged periods of time multiple animals spend time together is the 15 month period (on average) cubs spend with their mother.Though undoubtedly there are instances where cougars run into each other (like at a kill, for example when these two females with cubs met) but those encounters seem to be avoided by communication through various olfactory, visual, and auditory signs. Those same signs however can also be clues left by a female to signal a male she is sexually receptive. Researchers believe that urine marks and vocalizing are the primary ways a female advertises her ‘availability’. This vocalization is what is referred to as caterwauling and it is quite an impressive sound. Have a listen:

Audio of Female Cougar in Heat

That would get my attention as well, though I wouldn’t want to necessarily go towards the sound.

Female mountain lions have an estrus of four to twelve days with an average of seven to eight days (data from captive studies). This is a rather short period of time for a male to find a female when you occupy as large of home ranges as they do, so it makes sense to create an obvious ‘hey, I am right here!’ kind of signal. Once they do find each other a breeding pair will stay together for one to sixteen days with one to four days being most typical. After the business is done the male will leave again (I know, I know, typical male behavior….).

So, is this meet up of two mountain lions a mating pair in the pictures below. The mountain lion front and center is our resident female, Artemis (named so after the Greek goddess of the hunt, based on her forehead mark resembling Artemis’s bow — can you tell my girlfriend came up with that one??) but if you look carefully on the right there is another puma, a rather large puma, sitting off to the side.

Mountain Lions in Aptos, California Taken: July 13th, 2011 @ 5:34pm

Mountain Lions in Aptos, California Taken: July 13th, 2011 @ 5:34pm

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Mountain Lion Pair in Aptos, California

Is it a male? What do you think? If it is indeed a male and breeding was successful then we may have kittens starting around about October 15th of this year….time will tell!

Bibliography:

Ross, P.I. and M.G. Jalkotzy. 1992. Characteristics of a hunted population of cougars in southwestern Alberta. Journal of Wildlife Managment. 56:417-426

Mehrer, C.F. 1975. Some aspects of reproduction in captive mountain lions Felis concolor, bobcats Lynx rufus, and lynx Lynx canadensis. Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Dakote, Grand Forks.

Rabb, G.B. 1959. Reproductive and vocal behavior in captive mountain lions.

Seidensticker, J.C., M.G. Hornocker, W.V. Wiles, and J.P. Messick. 1973. Mountain Lion social organization in the Idaho Primitive Area. Wildlife Monogram 35: 1-60

Audio Courtesy of Felidae Conservation Fund.

Endangered Neighbor: Sea Otter

Sea Otter Portrait, Elkhorn Slough, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter Portrait, Elkhorn Slough, Monterey Bay, California

Just wanted to cover another local endangered species, one also covered in the Endangered Neighbors exhibit. Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) are probably the cutest animal I photographed for the exhibit yet that did not save them from man as their numbers are also one of the lowest in that group. At around 2650 (they do a census every year where they attempt to record every single Sea Otter along the California coast) their numbers are stable if not decreasing.

Sea Otter mother and pup swimming, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter mother and pup swimming, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

The first issue is a historical one since southern sea otters were almost driven to extinction due to the fur hunt in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Before this commercial eradication of these beautiful creatures there were an estimated 16,000 in California, by the time the fur hunt had done its damage only around 50 survived in Big Sur. When the species was listed as threatened under the endangered species act in 1977 there were an estimated 1,789 individuals. Since then major conservation efforts have and are taking place but as you can see the population is not making any kind of fast comeback.

The modern problems sea otters face include:

  • Coastal pollution created pathogens and parasites negatively affect otter immune systems
  • Getting entangled in fishing gear (especially gill nets)
  • Getting shot (though rare this does still happen)
  • Potential of a large scale wipe-out in case of an oil spill

As I mentioned before though, there are plenty of organizations and individuals putting in a lot of effort to protect this species. It probably helps that they are a keystone species (have a tremendous impact on the ecology of their coastal environment), are incredible cute, and can be seen from shore. The Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s SORAC program which rescues, treats, and releases injured otters; raises and releases stranded pups through their surrogate program; and conducts scientific research. They were also nice enough to invite me to photograph some of these efforts.

When a stranded otter is called in and brought into the aquarium it gets a medical check up and resident otters undergo surgery for transmitter implementation.

Sea Otter surgery, Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

Sea Otter surgery, Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

Their surrogate program is also quite amazing where certain female otters readily take on the role of mother when a stranded pup is brought to the aquarium. They raise them as if they were their own, providing them the life skills for them to be ready to be released back into the wild (the aquarium first had people try to teach the pups how to forage but it proved to not be as effective).

Sea Otter pair in holding tank, Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

Sea Otter pair in holding tank, Monterey Bay Aquarium, California

Karl Mayer releasing Sea Otter, Elkhorn Slough, California

Karl Mayer releasing Sea Otter, Elkhorn Slough, California

They subsequently monitor the released individuals daily for two weeks. If the individual decides to swim to far out into the ocean a helicopter is even hired so they can find the otter faster.

The great thing is that like for any other endangered species there are easy steps you can take to help these cuddly (they at least they look cuddly, though this really isn’t the case behaviorally) creatures out:

  • Reduce or eliminate coastal pollution by:
    • throwing your trash away at the beach
    • throwing cat litter in the trash (not the toilet)
    • dispose of hazardous waste appropriately – see Waste Management’s site on correct disposal of these materials
    • buying organic foods, so pesticides don’t end up in the ocean
    • using re-usable grocery bags
  • Buy sustainably harvested seafood to reduce the chances of sea otters being killed as bycatch- check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to see what areas are advisable to eat in your area
  • Fixing oil leaks in  your car immediately (just stand by some of the Mission Avenue gas stations in Santa Cruz and see how much oil goes into the gutter labeled ‘flows directly into the bay’)
  • Vote against near shore oil drilling legistlation – to find out what they are, visit the Friends of Sea Otters website

You should also come out and see these amazing creatures. See how they wrap themselves in kelp during the night to keep from drifting. Check out a pup sleeping on its belly. Find an otter using a rock to open a clam. You will be amazing at their complexity and intricacies! You can also check out more pictures in my Sea Otter Portfolio.

Sea Otter Yawning, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter Yawning, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter mother carrying pup, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter mother carrying pup, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter wrapped in kelp, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter wrapped in kelp, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter mother and pup, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

Sea Otter mother and pup, Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California

 

Identifying Puma Gender by Genital Spots

How do you identify the gender of a puma? This is one of those cases where I realize how little I know and how little experience I have in regards to Mountain Lions. I am sure an experienced puma biologists could look at the picture below and say, duh, that’s a male, or duh, that’s a female…well even after doing some more research I once again have no clue.

Mountain Lion Rear View

Mountain Lion Rear View

Mountain Lion Rear View Close Up

Mountain Lion Rear View Close Up

From Ken Logan and Linda Sweanor’s 2001 “Determining the Sex of Treed Cougars“:

“Male adult and subadult cats have a conspicuous black spot of hair, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter surrounding the opening to the penis sheath behind the hind legs and about 4 inches (10 cm) below the anus. The anus is usually hidden by the base of the tail. In between the anus and black spot is the scrotum, which is covered with light to dark brown hair and will usually appear as another dark spot.”

“Female adult and subadult cats do not have this conspicuous black spot of hair. The area is entirely covered in white hair. The anus is directly below the base of the tail and the vulva is directly underneath the anus. Both the anus and the vulva will usually be hidden by the base of the tail.”

So my guess would be female, but then there is that little amount of dark hair just to the left of the tail, but is that too close to the anus. What do you think?

Note: This image was taken two weeks (almost down to the minute) after the second image from the Aptos Mountain Lion Characters Post

Aptos Mountain Lion Characters

As many of you have noticed I am completely and utterly fascinated by mountain lions, pumas, cougars, catamounts, or what ever you like to call them (did the webpage url and logo give that away???). It has always been my fascination getting pictures of them and seeing them in the wild. Though i have been able to get images, I have never seen one in nature (how is that possible you ask — camera traps!).

As anyone with any obsession, I can’t get enough information about them. Absolutely everything interests me about them including home range size, territoriality, density, prey species, den sites, when cubs leave their mother’s home range, and the list just keeps going on. I am telling you this as a forewarning for future posts under the Project Puma heading that will have anything and everything to do with mountain lions whether that is information or pictures just in case there is someone else as interested in this beautiful cat as I am.

This post is also supposed to serve as an introduction to the cat(s) of the area I camera trap in Aptos near Santa Cruz in the Monterey Bay area. As of right now there are two camera traps out there and I have gotten mountain lion pictures on three different occasions. I am not completely sure whether it is the same cat or different cats so I figured I’d ask you guys. Here are the three pictures followed by close-ups in the same order.

Juvenile Mountain Lion Walking at Night

Taken on June 8th, 2010 at 4:35am

Taken December 25, 2010 at 9:31pm

Taken December 25, 2010 at 9:31pm

Taken March 5th, 2011 at 6:32am

Taken March 5th, 2011 at 6:32am

Juvenile Mountain Lion at Night-Sebastian Kennerknecht - Close-upMountain Lion at Night-Sebastian Kennerknecht-Close upMountain Lion walking over log close up-Sebastian Kennerknecht

Is it all the same cat, I really don’t know. In other cat species researchers use the spotting pattern which is unique to each cat to identify them. For Puma concolor (the scientific name of the mountain lion meaning cat of one color) this isn’t really an option. What I was looking at is the black marking around the mouth, the black whisker markings, and the shape of the ears. Nothing leads me to say that its the same cat or different cats (in the second image, that is a tick in the ear, sadly not something to identify the cat by) — do you see something I am not? One thing for sure is that the second cat is much bulkier than the first, but the images were also captured months apart.

An interesting thing to note are the few faint slightly darker spots on the back leg of the first image, which could give us some clues of its age. Puma kittens are completely spotted loosing these marks as they become older. By ten months, the markings are difficult to see except on the hindquarters. The eyes turn from a light blue as kittens to yellow brown as adults (this change is complete by sixteen months). Young pumas are independent around 15 months (with a range of 10 to 18 months) leaving their mother’s territory and searching for their own. Based on the fact that I had not captured an image of a puma before this individual (for a period of 8 months) and its morphology it leads me to believe that this must be a juvenile looking for its own territory. If the second and third image are of the same cat, then I am glad to know its doing well in its new home!

Extended Bio

I figured I would let you know a little bit more about myself, especially since most of this information is probably already scattered around the internet anyway. I was born on June 12, 1985 in Munich, Germany – yes, presents are always welcome :). I have an older brother (a world class sailor) and a younger sister (an amazing artist). My interest in wildlife began before I can remember, and animals hold an extremely special place in my heart. The love of the outdoors and nature probably arose from the local lakes, hiking the in Alps, and our backyard pond. The beauty and diversity of animals became really apparent to me at the Munich Hellabrunn Zoo. I have mixed feelings about zoos now, I really hate seeing the animals caged up, but I do think they can provide the benefit of getting people excited about nature to the point where they want to preserve it.

One of my favorite places to go at the zoo was the Raubtiergehege (Carnivore Cages). It was a concrete building with steel bars, and it stank, really really badly. I loved that smell though, it meant that no one else would be there and that I was surrounded by true predators. It housed the lions, tigers, and leopards. Thinking back, it really was a very bad place for those amazing creatures to be, but it made me fall in love with animals, specifically all the wildcats. The structure has since then been brought down and newer, better exhibits have been built for these carnivores. I do still go back and visit the Munich Zoo, which brins back memories of my early childhood.

I moved to the United States when I was ten years old. The move was extremely hard on us children. We left our best friends back in Germany and moved to a country we knew nothing about, least of all spoke its language. After a few years though we were speaking English fluently and started to really appreciate our new home. For myself, the vast wilderness of the States is just breathtaking and the biodiversity is unbelievable. California has so many different ecosystems and did I mention its on the coast! We lived eight hours away from it by car in Germany, now we could walk there.

After attending a private German-American school for three years, I went to Mission San Jose High School in Fremont. Then I went on to study Behavioral Ecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The layout of the campus, encompassed by nature was the perfect fit for me. In my second year I really started to get interested in photography again (before then I just dabbled around) and I would spend many hours looking for bobcats. Maybe I should say that I got better at tracking here than photography, I really didn’t take too many pictures since I only saw two bobcats for a few seconds each at my time at UCSC.

Then I bought my first digital SLR, a Pentax ist*Ds. I started taking hundreds, better yet, thousands of images and I really started to learn how to operate the camera and how to achieve the kind of images I was imagining. A couple years later I switched to a Canon system and really started to explore more photographic possibilities. I am most definitely still learning, and feel that I always will be, but that’s part of the fun of it. Photographically I am always excited to try new things!

At this point I am focusing my photography on the endangered wildlife that lives in the area, to try and showcase them and their need for conservation. I am currently in the last stages of photographing for an exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History called Endangered Neighbors. It is a project close to my heart, I approached the museum four years ago asking them if they would be interested in an exhibit that covers the threatened and endangered wildlife of the central Coast, highlighting their natural history, why they are endangered, what people are doing to save them, and what the general public can do to protect them. They agreed and we are finally starting the development phase of the exhibit. Look for it in summer 2011!

As time progresses there will be more events and happenings, but for those you will have to read future blog posts…