Courtship in pumas: videos reveal cryptic behaviors

A male puma looking back (Photograph courtesy of Max Allen)

Max Allen – Santa Cruz Puma Project

A male puma looking back (Photograph courtesy of Max Allen)

Pumas are cryptic carnivores that are among the most difficult animals to observe in the wild. Studying these cryptic animals is often challenging, and it is especially hard to study courtship between males and females. One aspect of my research revolves around using motion-triggered cameras to understand how carnivores, including pumas, communicate. As such, I have made some hard-won observations of puma courtship and mating.

From my observations, most of the initial courtship interactions involve communication that is centered around scent marking areas used by the carnivore community (Allen et al. 2014, Allen et al. 2015). I use the term “community scrapes” for these areas, while Logan and Sweanor (2001) used the term “shared scrapes.” Male pumas are the most frequent visitors to these areas (73% of all visits; Allen et al. 2014), and during their visits they typically exhibit scraping behavior.

A male puma scraping at a community scrape (Video by Max Allen)

During scraping behavior pumas scrape the ground with their hind paws to create a mound of duff, and then urinate or defecate on the mound of material. This creates a visual cue (the physical scrape) combined with a scent mark (the urine or feces) (Allen et al. 2014). Male pumas create these scrapes to advertise their residency status, and competitors and potential mates investigate these signals and cues (Allen et al. 2014).

A female’s early visit to a community scrape, where she investigates but does not scent mark (Video by Max Allen)

Female pumas will stop by community scrapes intermittently to investigate scents left by the resident males, but their involvement at community scrape sites really begins when they are ready to breed. —> Read More