New Study Shows “Solitary” Pumas Are Social Over Meals

Research posts

Like many terrestrial carnivores, pumas are considered to be solitary animals—sticking to separate territories and meeting up only to mate, raise kittens, or settle territorial disputes. 

 

Female puma stands at the edge of a mountaintop forest in the gathering dusk.

Female puma stands over her kill.

Courtesy of Neil Wight/Panthera


But new research based on GPS location data and motion-triggered cameras in northwest Wyoming shows that these wild cats do interact frequently over killed prey, sharing food with non-relatives in ways that demonstrate complex social strategies like reciprocity.

 


“It’s the complete opposite of what we’ve been saying about pumas and solitary species for over 60 years,” said lead author Mark Elbroch, who is lead scientist for the Panthera Puma Program.

Scientists had previously suggested that pumas didn’t quite fit the solitary carnivore mold.

For one, pumas regularly kill large prey that’s difficult to consume on their own. They also have long life spans, which they tend to spend in stable spots, which opens them to multiple interactions with others in their immediate neighborhood. But while these two traits suggested opportunities for social behavior, evidence was hard to come by—until the arrival of GPS technology.

 

Female puma stands over the carcass of a hooved animal, while a young male approaches.

Young male puma approaches adult female as she dines on her kill.

Mark Elbroch/Panthera


For this study, which was published today in Science Advances, researchers used GPS location data to document pumas socializing over 1,000 shared meals—or prey carcasses—for three years, beginning in 2012. They filmed more than 200 such interactions with motion- triggered cameras.

Genetic analysis carried out by Anthony Caragiulo, assistant director of genomic operations at the Museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics helped establish relatedness between interacting pumas, which turned out to be low. Pumas, the research showed, often shared food with a network of non-relatives—and seemed to track who had shared meals with them in the past, demonstrating a high likelihood of returning the favor.

“This work goes against convention for solitary carnivores, but our evidence is supported by both behavior and genetics, and should make an impact on further carnivore studies,” says Caragiulo.

 

 

Tags: Mammals