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384 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 10, No. 2
Photographic Evidence of Florida Panthers Claw-marking Logs
Roy McBride1 and Cougar McBride1
Abstract - The secretive nature of Puma concolor (Puma) has made it difficult to observe them
in the wild; therefore, researchers have primarily relied on radio telemetry to study Puma movements,
habitat use, kill sites, and den locations. With the advent of digital infrared trail cameras,
biologists are now recording previously unobserved Puma behavior, including urine-marking by
females, wallowing, flehmening, and claw-marking logs. On 7 occasions, from August 2009–April
2010, we recorded 64 diagnostic sequential images of adult Puma concolor coryi (Florida Panther),
of both genders, claw-marking the trunk of a downed Sable palmetto (Sabal Palm) log. Following
a literature review and interviews with 11 professional Puma hunters, we concluded that this
biological note represents the first photographic evidence of how male and female wild Pumas
In the late 1950s, while hunting Puma concolor L. (Puma) in the Dead Horse
Mountains of southwestern Texas, the senior author noted where a Puma had left
a urine marker and fresh scat in the decomposing frond litter of a Yucca faxoniana
(Trel.) Sarg. (Spanish Dagger) that had fallen to the ground. In addition, the
Puma had left obvious parallel claw marks on the bare horizontal trunk of the
Spanish Dagger. We subsequently observed this distinctive sign on numerous
occasions elsewhere in the Puma’s range, including western Paraguay, northern
Mexico, and southern Florida. On all but one occasion, Puma claw marks were
made on the fallen or inclined trunks of fibrous plants in the Agave (Agavaceae)
and Palm (Palmae) families. These claw marks were not on the apex of the trunk,
but rather along the sides.
From August 2009–April 2010, we established 3 camera stations using Sable
palmetto (Walter) Lodd. ex Schult. & Schult. f. (Sabal Palm) trunks as visual attractants
along known Puma concolor coryi Bangs (Florida Panther) travel routes
in southern Florida.
The objectives of the study were to document how Florida Panthers clawmarked
logs and to determine if claw-marking was a gender-specific behavior.
We used model RC55 and RC60 RapidFire digital infrared cameras (RECONYX,
Inc. Holmen, WI) programmed using the manufacturer’s “5 pictures, RapidFire,
no quiet period” setting. Station 1 consisted of a Sabal Palm log claw-marked by
Panthers on previous occasions. On this log, we placed a proven scent lure that we
developed and used to attract and hold Panthers in the field of view at trail camera
stations in Everglades National Park (McBride and McBride 2010). This scent lure
previously elicited flehmen (Doving and Trotier 1998, Hart and Leedy 1987), urine
marking, wallowing, and licking behavior in wild Panthers. Station 2 consisted of a
Sabal Palm log that had not been clawed by Panthers, accompanied with scent lure
placed in adjacent leaf litter. Station 3 consisted of a similar Sabal Palm log with
no scent lure. However, at Station 3, we mimicked Panther clawmarks by scoring
the Sabal Palm trunk with the back edge of a machete blade.
1Rancher’s Supply, Inc. - Livestock Protection Company, 26690 Pine Oaks Road, Ochopee, FL 34141.
Notes of the Southeastern Nat u ral ist, Issue 10/2, 2011
2011 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 385
Station 1 produced images of male and female Panthers walking past the
log without apparent interest. However, on two occasions a male Panther made
a urine marker in leaf litter adjacent to the log. Station 2 produced images of
Panthers, of both genders, walking past the log without apparent interest. Station
3 also produced images of male and female Panthers walking past the log
without apparent interest. However, on 7 occasions, trail cameras at this station
recorded a total of 64 diagnostic sequential images of Panthers, of both genders,
Figure 1. On 1 August 2009, an adult male panther claw-marked the log with its fore-paws in the
same location where we had scored the log with the machete.
Figure 2. On 15 February 2010, an adult female panther claw-marked the log with its fore-paws in
the same location where we had scored the log with the machete.
386 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 10, No. 2
mounting, claw-marking and dismounting the log (Figs. 1, 2; for a more complete
set of sequential images for both male and female panthers claw-marking logs,
see Supplemental File 1, available online at https://www.eaglehill.us/SENAonline/
suppl-files/s10-2-908-McBride-s1, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi.
org/10.1656/S908.s1). Although gender was determined by the presence or absence
of testicles in photographs with clear views of the genital region, we were
unable to determine the number of individuals of each gender due to a lack of
unique distinguishing characteristics. Only adult Panthers were photographed at
the 3 camera stations.
We have discovered claw-marked logs on numerous occasions when following
trained hounds as they track Panthers. We also observed Panther day-resting
sites, where the kittens of a family group clawed the trunks of standing trees while
climbing and playing. The claw-marking behavior we describe in this note, however,
involves adult Panthers of both genders, repeatedly claw-marking downed
logs along their travel routes. Whereas urine markers are generally considered
to be the principle means that Panthers use to identify their home ranges, clawmarked
logs may serve as visual markers that are not subject to rapid degradation
by the elements.
To determine if claw-marking sign has been observed or photographed elsewhere,
we interviewed 11 professional Puma hunters from the United States
and Mexico. None of these hunters reported observing logs that had been clawmarked
by Pumas. During our literature review, we found references of wild
Pumas scratching the bark of trees (Logan and Sweanor 2001, Seidensticker et
al. 1973) and captive Pumas scratching the lower trunk or exposed root of a tree
(Seidensticker et al. 1973). In addition, we discovered unpublished photographs
of captive Pumas scratching the limbs and trunks of trees in their enclosures.
However, this biological note presents the first photographic evidence of how
male and female wild Pumas claw-mark logs.
Acknowledgments. We thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for funding our annual panther
survey and J. Kellam for his assistance with manuscript and photographic edits.
Doving, K.B., and D. Trotier. 1998. Structure and function of the vomeronasal organ. Journal of
Experimental Biology 201:2913–2925.
Hart, B.L., and M.G. Leedy. 1987. Stimulus and hormonal determinants of flehmen behavior in
cats. Hormones and Behavior 21:44–52.
Logan, K.A., and L.L Sweanor. 2001. Desert Puma: Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation of an
Enduring Carnivore. Island Press, Washington, DC. 463 pp
McBride, R.T., and C.E. McBride. 2010. Florida Panther flehmen response recorded at baited trail
camera site. Southeastern Naturalist 9:629–631.
Seidensticker, J.C. IV, M.G. Hornocker, W.V. Wiles, and J.P. Messick. 1973. Mountain Lion social
organization in the Idaho Primitive Area. Wildlife Monographs No. 35. 60 pp.