Monday, November 3, 2008

Melanistic Cougars

Black Leopard Photo from wikipedia creative commons

I thought it was important to touch on the subject of black cougar sightings. It seems that one in three cougar sightings in the east have been about a large, black cat. Just as confusing as the controversial issue of existence of eastern cougars, we now throw black cougars into the mix. Is there such a thing as a black cougar? Truly, I'm not sure. With so many sightings of black cougars, it is difficult not to wonder of their existence. But what makes a cougar black, and why don't we see them everywhere?
First, realize that black animals have a higher amount of a pigment called melanin. If an animal is darker in relation to one of the same species, the darker animal has more melanin. In most cases the animal has a mutated gene making the creature, all black. The only possible account of a black cougar was from Panama, of a cougar which was a much darker shade of black red. Although this cougar could be considered black, the underside was white as all cougar's bellies are. So, this cougar was not a true melanistic animal. Black cougar sightings have been classified as house cat sightings. I will diverge into the black cougar aspect later.
One important point I have witnessed today is the further away an animal can be, the more difficult the relative size is to determine. I saw a black cat as I drove down the road. It was making its way through the grasses of a field, more than 200 feet away. In the brief time I saw the animal, I had to assess the size and decide what it was. It was a black house cat. Now I can see where it become so hard for someone to determine the species of an animal in fleeting glimpses. I am not discarding the possibility of Black cougars, but I think there must be some explanation.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

We in Gaithersburg had a black cougar killed on I-270 near NIST, but after the call was made by the police on the scene for removal, the police had to leave and the body was snatched.
Also, the UMd camous at College Park was put into an uproar earlier this semester by sightings of what turned out to be a "Savannah Cat", a domestic cross between a Serval and a house cat, giving it much greater size - 30 lbs and 28" tall.

- clark - said...

Misidentification is the cause of many cougar sightings, but I do not believe that they are all wrong. One obstacle in determining the existence of Eastern Cougars or Eastern Mountain Lions, is the idea that all Cougars in the East are escaped pets. Although, it seems that the "Savannah Cat" would have to be a captive-breed animal.

Tom said...

A couple of years ago, while driving in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, VA, I saw a large black animal walking along the road. I slowed down, just in case it might dart out in front of my car, but it kept lumbering along. As I drove by, i noticed that it was a large black cat, about 2.5-3 ft tall. I assume this was melanistic cougar. Have there been any other sightings of this type of cat in that area?

- clark - said...

In 2008 there was a cougar sighted in Suffolk county Virginia. Although, the cougar was not black. I have heard of so called "swamp cats" that being cougars living in the Dismal swamp area of Virginia, some thought to be black in color. A good idea is to go to the Eastern Cougar Foundation's website (easterncougar.org) and fill out a sighting report with them. I cannot say 100% what you saw, but it seems like quite a sighting.

Anonymous said...

I have plaster casts of a cougar's prints in mud. They are undeniable as they were poured within minutes of myself and mother watching it cross the road. I'm sorry if you don't believe in eastern cougar but they are more real than god!

Anonymous said...

It's very possible that there are black cougars (puma or mountain lion, whatever you call it) because melanism is a mutation. As for the fact that cougars live in the east, that's undeniable. Cougars' range is expanding fast, and there are plenty. Cougars have even been known to "migrate", so it's not impossible. While it's been proven that there are cougars in the east, there has not been a confirmed case of a black cougar. Many of these cats are large domestic cats or hybrid cats. You can tell the difference between a wild and domestic feline by it's posture and how it moves around.

Anonymous said...

I have seen one in Isle of Wight County, VA about mile from my house a year ago. I am not only person in the area that has seen this cat. They are no small animal that is for sure. Whether confirmed or not it lives in the woods nearby my home.