Friday, August 31, 2012

Puma concolor

Possibly everything you want to know about
Cougars / Pumas / Mountain Lions
(And links to more if this doesn't satisfy your curiosity)

Cougar in southern Utah

Stalking cougar (perserved) at BYU
Thanks to a friend, I've been learning more about cougars (Puma concolor) lately.  I knew a little about them from living in Utah County, where there are cougars in the mountains, and with BYU (nearby university) having the cougar as their mascot.

But in my ongoing quest to learn more (about pretty much everything that interests me) and share with others, I'm offering this information on these majestic animals.  Please also visit my friend's YouTube channel, the Mountain Lion Foundation website for conservation info, and petition to try to prevent them from going extinct here like they have in NE America!

Basic Facts
Scientific name: Puma concolor (meaning: cat of one color)
Common names: Cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount (which may be a contraction of "cat of the mountain"), panther, and more.  It holds the Guinness world record for animal with the most names, with over 40 in English alone. (wikipedia)
Lifespan: 18-20 years
Diet: obligate carnivore (must eat meat to survive), generalist, eats any meat it can catch, from insects to large ungulates

Habitat: Alpine & subalpine habitats, Meadows & fields, Scrub, shrub & brushlands, Deserts, Swamps, marshes & bogs, Forests & woodlands, Canyons & caves
Red is their range
Orange is where they have gone extinct or been severely reduced.
2010, Wikipedia
Range: Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Florida, Texas, California, Northwest, Western Canada
The geographic range of the puma is the largest of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), from Canada through the US, Central and South America to the southern tip of Chile (IUCN Red List).  Today, the Mountain Lion has a wider distribution in the Western Hemisphere than any other mammal except Homo sapiens, thriving from lowland tropical forests, swamps, and grassland, to mountain conifer forests, desertscrub, and any location with adequate cover and prey (Source).

Territory: Mountain lions go to great lengths to avoid other creatures, even other lions. Some studies suggest that the territory of a single lion can range upwards of 200 square miles (Wilderness Utah).

Here is an 8 minute video with a nice overview of biology and behavior of the mountain lion.  It compares the "American Lion" with the African Lion, shows their hearing and sight abilities in comparison to humans, their importance in an ecosystem, and a wealth of other basic info on cougars.

Please sign the petition to protect cougars and their habitat.

Basic Conservation information
Colorado Parks and Wildlife

They were extirpated from half of their north American range in the early1900s (thanks to a bounty on them which ended in the 1960s). According to IUCN Redlist they are listed as "Least Concern", however, their populations worldwide are declining and in several areas (including Florida) they are critically endangered. The two biggest issues are habitat loss (large cats need a large space) and hunting (both for "sport" and livestock control).

In most states you at least need a license. It is illegal to hunt them in California, but in Texas they have absolutely no protection at all. In all states where hunting is allowed (except Oregon) they are usually treed by hounds. They can then be killed at the hunter's leisure. In nearly every country in their South American range they are protected. US, Mexico and Canada are the last holdouts. There have been only about 20 cougar related fatalities in North America since 1880. 

Please sign the petition to protect cougars and their habitat.

Endangered Status
Two subspecies of the Mountain Lion are on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Eastern Puma is classified as endangered throughout the eastern U.S., and the Florida Panther is classified as endangered in Florida. Because the Mountain Lion requires isolated or undisturbed game-rich wilderness, it has declined or been exterminated in much of the habitat where it once thrived early in the 20th century.

Mountain Peaks Gallery

Its habitat was overtaken by development in many areas, and its main prey, the White-tailed Deer, disappeared over much of its range. For many years, this large wildcat was pursued by bounty hunters and persecuted as a threat to livestock. In recent years, there have been a few sightings of animals or tracks in Canada’s Maritime Provinces and in upper New England, New York State, and elsewhere in the East, but most reports have turned out to be false. Radio-tracking is being used to study the behavior of Florida Panthers, and an office has been established to investigate reports of Eastern Puma sightings in the southern Appalachians. Currently the species is fully protected where rare, and classified as a game animal where abundant (eNature).

Please sign the petition to protect cougars and their habitat.

Here is a video overview of the issue, made in Oregon so at the end it talks about some statistics for Oregon, but the opening portion is general:

Please sign the petition to protect cougars and their habitat.

Have to put some bones, I'm a sucker for osteology!  They obviously have a very strong bite force, with a large open space for muscles to pass behind the zygomatic arch, from the site of attachment on the skull, down to the mandible.

Here is the entire skeleton with many bones labeled:

Labels only partially visible, but this is just such a beautiful drawing I had to include it.

Please sign the petition to protect cougars and their habitat.

Physiology and Behavior
(This section taken from wikipedia, as you can see by the hyperlinks...sorry.)  Despite its size, it is not typically classified among the "big cats", as it cannot roar, lacking the specialized larynx and hyoid apparatus of Panthera

Cougar with good view of large paws
Preserved cougar on BYU campus, Provo Utah
(entrance to the Wilkinson center)

Photo by me 8/31/2012
Cougars have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family.[35] This physique allows it great leaping and short-sprint ability. Cougars can jump 18 feet (5.5 meters) from the ground into a tree, and they have been known to jump 20 feet (6.1 meters) up or down a hillside. [46] The cougar can run as fast as 55 to 72 km/h (35 to 45 mi/h),[47] but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, which allows it to evade canine competitors. Although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.

Investigation in Yellowstone National Park showed that elk, followed by mule deer, were the cougar's primary targets; the prey base is shared with the park's gray wolves, with whom the cougar competes for resources.[50] Another study on winter kills (November–April) in Alberta showed that ungulates accounted for greater than 99% of the cougar diet.

Though capable of sprinting, the cougar is typically an ambush predator. It stalks through brush and trees, across ledges, or other covered spots, before delivering a powerful leap onto the back of its prey and a suffocating neck bite. The cougar is capable of breaking the neck of some of its smaller prey with a strong bite and momentum bearing the animal to the ground.[40] 

Coyote, Wolf, and Cougar Blog

Kills are generally estimated at around one large ungulate every two weeks. The period shrinks for females raising young, and may be as short as one kill every three days when cubs are nearly mature at around 15 months.[35] The cat drags a kill to a preferred spot, covers it with brush, and returns to feed over a period of days. It is generally reported that the cougar is a non-scavenger and will rarely consume prey it has not killed; but deer carcasses left exposed for study were scavenged by cougars in California, suggesting more opportunistic behavior.

Please sign the petition to protect cougars and their habitat.

Males set up territories that overlap several females.  They typically mate between December and March, and 2-3 cubs are born after a 90-95 day gestation.
Cubs are born with a spotted coat, but the spots fade and usually disappear as the young become adults.  Cubs' eyes open at about 10 days, at which time their ears also unfold, teeth first erupt, and they begin playing (Encyclopedia of Life).
Animal Planet

Cubs nurse for 3 or 4 months, but begin to eat meat as early as 6 weeks of age. Young cats become independent when they are about 2 years old, and littermates stay together for a few months after leaving their mother (Hogle Zoo).

Photo Researchers

Again, please visit my friend's YouTube channel, the Mountain Lion Foundation website for conservation info, and sign the petition to protect pumas and their habitat!  It's not too late to protect these animals if people act now.  Let's not wait until it IS too late.  Thank you.

Holy crap! Maybe this wasn't such a good idea!

Thanks to my friend PumawithaPC for inspiring this post and caring so passionately about the puma.  I'm glad I had the chance to research Puma concolor and learn more about these magnificent animals.  Remember to sign the petition!

Thank you for reading.  Please comment to let me know what you found useful or interesting!  Thanks for visiting Bio Geo Nerd!

Hogle Zoo

Resources on this topic:
You Tube video on puma conservation
Mountain Lion Foundation (support them to help protect cougars)
Wikipedia info on cougar
Mountain Lion info for Oregon
Mountain Lion info for Utah
IUCN Red List (endangered species) cougar status and history
Info from San Pedro River Valley
Encyclopedia of Life
Hogle Zoo (Utah)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

California Sea Lion Bark

Here are the California Sea Lions at Port Dock 1 in Newport, Oregon.  They put in a new dock so the sea lions were making good use of it and barking up a storm.  It was a very fun night. :)

Now you know what it sounds like, if you ever hear a sound like that, it's a California Sea Lion. No other pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) make a sound like that.

Go here to my other post to learn all about California Sea Lions

Monday, August 27, 2012

Evolution Research

I have the awesome opportunity to do research this semester and next, with a fully legit, IRB approved study looking at evolution teaching pedagogy.  And...even better.... I will get to write my own IRB proposal, do interviews with students, then next semester I will analyze the data, and present the results at a conference next summer!  (Happy Dance!)

The study is to look at students' perceptions of evolution, and how those change or don't change over a semester of learning about evolution.  Oh my gosh this is going to be great.  It will hopefully give excellent data on how to effectively teach evolution, which will be so valuable!  In particular, for my part, I want to see if it's possible to teach it in such a way that students don't feel like they have to become atheist or lose their religious faith in order to accept evolution.  That is a very pertinent thing for me to know especially as a future teacher in Utah County.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Free Choice Learning, Social Science, Exhibit Proposal

I am in the middle of putting together my exhibit proposal and my power point presentation for the final symposium on Friday and I had to take a quick break to geek out.

I'm going through all the data I collected by talking with people in the visitor center here, and I find myself feeling so excited!  I'm so loving this.  I think this kind of work is the perfect marriage of my passions for science, education, and psychology!  I get to think about how the brain works, how it learns, how people interact with things based on their beliefs and values, and also some sociology of how they do all this in the context of participating with their family, sharing their opinion with others, etc.  This is so cool!

I think I'm also really going to enjoy the research I'll be doing this fall with Dr. Heath Ogden.  We're going to do a study on how college Biology students learn and accept or reject evolution.  I'm super excited for this!  Once again, it's that marriage of science, education, psychology, and even some religion on that one.  Perfect.

I think the other wonderful thing about this project is that it's not just one of those research projects where you find some data and present it and you're done.  No, I got to collect the data, interpret it, and immediately apply it into an exhibit proposal that is catered to the wants and needs of people based on that data I collected!  It's data collection with an immediately applicable purpose!  And creating the exhibit proposal is just such a powerful thing.  To think that my work and ideas will be taken, tweaked and fleshed out, and made into an actual thing that people will use.  That's very exciting to me.  I wish I could be around for that tweaking and fleshing out process.  It would be so awesome to see a project like this all the way to the finish.

Having a blast!  Okay now back to work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Wow!  The excitement at Hatfield never ends!  I just saw a Salmon Shark in the flesh and touched it.  No, it wasn't alive.  I wouldn't touch this big fish if she were alive.  A fisherman caught her by mistake and called Bill Hanshumaker to pick it up.  They are freezing it to save for Shark Week (in November I think he said) and they will do a necropsy on it with the public.  How fun that would be!  Wish I would be around.

So this is a female Salmon Shark, about 6 feet long, weighing 300 pounds, caught here in Newport, Oregon, then brought to Hatfield Marine Science Center by Bill Hanshumaker.

Shark being examined with many onlookers

Here you can see little dots on the side of the shark's nose.  These are the ampullae of lorenzini. They use these to detect electrical signals such as muscle movements by prey.

Here's a video of them taking the shark from the truck to put on a cart.  They opted to not use the tarp to pull her off because after it was frozen, the shark would be stuck to the tarp.  My favorite part is Nick's disgusted look at the end after he looks at his bloody hands..haha.

Here are my friends (all the visitor center interns) with the shark.
Brian Verwey

Nick Pitz

Diana Roman

Me! (Julie Nance)

Bill Hanshumaker and Nick Pitz taking the shark to the freezer

Thanks so much to Diana for sending out the mass text so we could all come and be a part of this!

The End...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Week 9 of Internship: Only 1 left! Can't I stay 10 more?

I had another fantastic meeting this week with one of my mentors/ exhibit team, Shawn.  Nancee and Mark were both gone.  Shawn really liked what I've been coming up with and said that I've exceeded their expectations.  Naturally that made me feel really good.
He also mentioned the online Free Choice Learning master's degree OSU offers and said this is the type of project it involves, and that I'm doing work just as good as those students.  Shawn mentioned this program several weeks ago and it started the wheels turning in my head.  I'm sure it will stay on my radar as I finish my undergrad and start teaching.
Ever since the meeting I have been hard at work putting together the exhibit proposal.  I've never done anything quite like this, so it's challenging to find the right format and way of doing it.  I'm seeking feedback and advice on it from some folks, so that will help me get it pulled together these last few days.

Saturday was an awesome day working in the Visitor Center to cover for Brian who accidentally signed up for 18 straight days of work (covering for others who had covered for him).  Holy cow, I love the VC!  I got to work at the tide pools and I really love to talk to people and teach them about all the echinoderms especially in that tank.  I love to show off the sea cucumber guts, and point out the sea stars' madroporites.  Perfect for a biology geek like me.
I also got to do Ocean Quest (yay) which I also love...perfect for a geology geek like me. :)  (See why I love it here so much?)

To top it all off, right after Ocean Quest, I was invited by the wonderful Harrison and Kristen (the aquarists) to join them and Diana to feed all the animals, because the volunteer feeder called in sick.  How fun!  Somehow I missed the part of someone asking me if I wanted gloves, so I had stinky hands for a while.  But I didn't care.  It was a cool new experience.  I even got to use the giant pole to feed fish and anemones in the global tank. Sweet.  Something new every day!

Feeding Rock Fish in the global tank

Today was my final shift as a Working Waterfront Docent at Port Dock 1 where the Sea Lions hang out.  For those who don't know, Working Waterfront was started by a group of organizations in Newport including the Port, HMSC, the aquarium, local merchants, and a foundation that has been formed to raise money to repair and replace the docks.  They trained a bunch of volunteer docents and have someone stationed down there 10-4 every day.

Here I am at Port Dock 1 in my lovely red docent jacket :)
California Sea Lion at Port Dock 1 in Newport today

It's been a fun adventure.  Today I tried something new at the end of my shift and actually announced a Sea Lion talk and then spoke to the whole group for a few minutes about the sea lions.  I think it went well, and then it led into tons of questions from people.  People don't seem to always know that I'm there to answer questions.  If I were going to be doing another shift, I think I would do this Sea Lion talk about every 15 minutes for the constant flow of new visitors, or just whenever there is a big crowd of people.

So, all that happened just since Friday!  Monday through Thursday of this week was my final vacation with my kids.  We had a blast visiting Crater Lake then heading to Crescent City California to see the redwoods and explore the coast one last time including the stretch from Crescent City to Bandon.  Over this summer we have explored the Oregon Coast from the southern end up to Tillamook (we had planned to go all the way up but ran out of time on that trip).  We've also gone to the west-most point in the state (Cape Blanco Lighthouse), and gone as far east as the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  Actually if you include the drive to get here from Utah, we've traveled the entire width of the state!  It has been a crazy fun time and I'm going to have a hard time leaving.

Wizard Island - here you can really see that it's a cinder cone

Pumice Rock (orange formation) and the colorful cliffs

"Phantom Ship" - an interesting ancient volcanic formation

Phantom Ship again with shimmering water

The Pinnacles- fossil fumaroles (volcanic gas vents)

More pinnacles

A newly created trail led to beautiful Plaikni Falls

The Fam
Redwood Tree in Crescent City, CA
So I actually didn't realize this was the final post for the internship folks... so I have to just say that this has been the most amazing experience, and I am grateful to have been a part of such a great program and to associate with amazing people.  Nancee, Shawn, Mark, McKenzie, Becca, Bill, Harrison, Kristen, the bookstore staff and all the VC volunteers, Chris Burns from Working Waterfronts, Eric and Sarah in Corvallis, and so many others, I can't name them all.  You have all made a huge impact on me and I will really miss being around such a dynamic crew.

I have also loved every chance I got to be around my fellow visitor center interns Brian, Diana, and Nick.  I hope we all stay in touch, I am excited to see what you all do in the future, cause you're so awesome!  Brian has so much knowledge and is so patient in sharing it with anyone.  I have picked his brain several times and he took the time to teach me the animals in the touch tank so I would feel more confident interpreting there.  Diana has that amazing announcer voice, and is so willing to jump in and help out and learn anything.  It's been fun to get to do stuff with her like learning to feed, and that unforgettable experience with Aurora the octopus!  Nick always makes me smile with his quirky and friendly personality.  Sometimes when I'm sick of being isolated in the library, I will visit the VC for some Nick-inspired laughs.  Thanks guys, it's been a blast!