Puma Predation: the Power of the Pounce

A study using a high-tech wildlife tracking collar has demonstrated the energetic demands involved in the ‘stalk and pounce’ hunting strategy of mountain lions in the wild.

The UC Santa Cruz Puma Project collects data on mountain lions (also known as pumas or cougars), researching their ecology, physiology and behaviour to gain a better understanding of anthropogenic influences on the survival of this endangered animal. Rarely seen by humans, mountain lions are a cryptic species; elusive and solitary, they do not share their territory and require large habitat areas that are increasingly threatened by land use changes and fragmentation.

The Species Movement, Acceleration and Radio Tracking (SMART) collar developed by the Santa Cruz research team contains an accelerometer and magnetometer as well as GPS technology, providing a detailed representation of the lions’ activities. The latest findings of the Puma Project use these collars to show how much energy is involved in prey capture by mountain lions in the wild. These impressive predators stalk their prey until they are close enough to pounce, delivering a fatal bite to the back of the neck. Mountain lions feed on deer, coyotes, porcupines and racoons; the high-tech collars used by the Puma Project show the varied energy demands involved in the capture of different-sized target animals.

 

photo credit T.M. Williams

Photo credit T.M.Williams

 

Terrie Williams, first author of the paper released in the journal Science, explained the lions’ adjustment in respect of prey size: “they know how big a pounce they need to bring down prey that are much bigger than themselves, like a full-grown buck, and they’ll use a much smaller pounce for a fawn”. In this way mountain lions match their maximum pouncing force to prey size to optimise resource use in hunting.

Understandably, this was no easy project. In order to calibrate the SMART collars, captive lions had to be trained to walk and run on a treadmill while measuring their oxygen consumption. Other activities were videotaped to provide a comprehensive library of reference behaviours, maximising the value of the collars in tracking this shy species in the wild. Using collars to monitor the movements and energy use of pumas has a wider relevance in understanding of the resource demands of large predators, as Williams commented “understanding the energetics of wild animals moving in complex environments is valuable information for developing better wildlife management plans.”

 

Terrie M. Williams, Lisa Wolfe, Tracy Davis, Traci Kendall, Beau Richter, Yiwei Wang, Caleb Bryce, Gabriel Hugh Elkaim, and Christopher C. Wilmers (2014) Instantaneous energetics of puma kills reveal advantage of felid sneak attacks. Science 3 81-85.

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Veronica Wignall

Veronica is a Biology graduate from the University of Bristol, she is currently an editorial assistant but hopes to move into science media comms! Follow Veronica on Twitter @vronwig

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