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Photographic Evidence of Wild Florida Panthers Scent-Marking with Facial Glands
Roy McBride and Rebecca Sensor

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 11, Issue 2 (2012): 349–354

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Photographic Evidence of Wild Florida Panthers Scent-Marking with Facial Glands Roy McBride1,* and Rebecca Sensor1 Abstract - While hunting Puma concolor coryi (Florida Panther) along known travel routes, we frequently observe our trained hounds alerting to Panther scent by smelling and licking the tips of overhanging limbs and the trunks of downed logs. To determine the type of Panther activity that causes this peculiar reaction from the hounds, we set trail cameras at 3 sites. From October 2010 –August 2011, our cameras recorded 13 visits by 8 different panthers (4 adult males, 2 adult females, and 2 juveniles), either scent-marking objects with facial glands or responding to the residual scent left by the other Panthers. Trail cameras programmed to record time and date established that Panthers were able to detect the lingering scent of facial-gland-marked objects spanning an interval of up to 40 days. Based on the frequency our hounds alert to facial gland scent-marked objects and confirmation of identical observations from 10 professional Puma concolor (Puma) hunters in Paraguay, Mexico, and the southwestern United States, we conclude that this form of invisible communication is used often by Pumas throughout their range. This biological note represents the first photographic evidence of how wild Panthers of both genders scent-mark objects with facial glands. Wild felids, such as Panthera pardus L. (Leopard), Panthera uncial Schreber (Snow Leopard), Panthera onca L. (Jaguar), and Puma concolor L. (Puma), use physical and chemical markers to locate one another and communicate estrus cycle status (Hornocker and Negri 2010, Seidensticker et al. 1973, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). The lead author has captured each of these species, by utilizing the ability of trained hounds to identify and follow the unique chemical signatures left by these felids along their travel routes. While hunting Puma concolor coryi Bangs (Florida Panther), we have often noticed where the older and more experienced hounds have shown interest in lingering scent on the tips of overhanging limbs at various places along Panther travel routes. We initially believed that the hounds had detected the scent where a Panther had unintentionally rubbed its body against these limbs while passing by. We placed trail cameras at these sites and at fallen logs where hounds had also alerted to Panther scent to determine the activity that triggered the hounds’ interest. From October 2010 to August 2011, we placed trail cameras at three sites in southwest Florida: Site 1 in the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and Sites 2–3 in the northeastern Big Cypress National Preserve. At Site 1, we used a model RC55 RapidFire digital infrared camera (RECONYX, Inc. Holmen, WI) programmed using the manufacturer’s “5 pictures, RapidFire, no quiet period” setting. The camera was focused on a stalk of Panicum hemitomon J.A. Schultes (Maidencane) where our trained hounds had previously alerted to Panther scent. This site was monitored once per month for 11 months. At Sites 2 and 3, we used Reconyx model PC900 digital infrared cameras programmed using the 1Rancher’s Supply, Inc. - Livestock Protection Company, 26690 Pine Oaks Road, Ochopee, FL 34141. *Corresponding author - John_Kellam@nps.gov. Notes of the Southeastern Nat u ral ist, Issue 11/2, 2012 349 350 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 11, No. 2 Figure 1. On 2 separate occasions, an adult male Panther facial gland scent-marked the same Maidencane stalk. Figure 2 (opposite page). An adult female Panther was observed facial gland scent-marking a small Slash Pine log for 4 minutes 50 seconds. 2012 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 351 manufacturer’s “10 pictures per trigger, RapidFire, no delay” setting. At Site 2, the camera was focused on a small Pinus elliottii Englem (Slash Pine) log at the juncture of two trails. At Site 3, the camera was focused on a decomposing Slash Pine log that had been claw-marked by Panthers. These 2 sites were monitored once per week for 11 months. The camera at Site 1 recorded an adult male Panther on two separate occasions scent-marking a Maidencane stalk with facial glands (Fig. 1; to view a video made up of a composite of consecutive still images, see Supplemental File 1, available online at https://www.eaglehill.us/SENAonline/suppl-files/s11-2- 1032-McBride-s1, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1656/ S1032.s1). At Site 2, a radio-collared adult female Panther was observed facial gland-marking a small Slash Pine log for 4 minutes 50 seconds (Fig. 2; to view a video made up of a composite of consecutive still images, see Supplemental File 2, available online at https://www.eaglehill.us/SENAonline/suppl-files/ s11-2-1032-McBride-s2, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi. org/10.1656/S1032.s2). Fourteen days later, the same log was visited by an uncollared adult female Panther accompanied by two juveniles. This family group displayed interest in the residual scent left by the first Panther (Fig. 3; to view a video made up of a composite of consecutive still images, see Supplemental File 3, available online at https://www.eaglehill.us/SENAonline/suppl-files/s11-2- 1032-McBride-s3, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1656/ Figure 3. All 3 members of a family group displayed an interest in the residual scent-mark left on the log by the first Panther 15 days prior. 352 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 11, No. 2 S1032.s3) by either sniffing or flehmening (Doving and Trotier 1998, Hart and Leedy 1987, McBride and McBride 2010). Site 3 was visited 9 times by 3 different male Panthers during a period of 5 months. These male Panthers smelled the log, and two of them repeatedly rubbed both sides of it with their facial glands (Fig. 4; to view a video made up of a composite of consecutive still images, see Supplemental File 4, available online at https://www.eaglehill.us/SENAonline/ suppl-files/s11-2-1032-McBride-s4, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1656/S1032.s4). One of these panthers was able to detect the scent of his predecessor, even after an interval of forty days, based upon the time- and date-stamped photographs. We identified these panthers as 3 individuals, by noting distinct physical anomalies. In addition, we recorded a separate instance of an adult male panther vigorously facial gland marking a log in daylight at a different location in the study area (to view a video made up of a composite of consecutive still images, see Supplemental File 5, available online at http:// www.eaglehill.us/SENAonline/suppl-files/s11-2-1032-McBride-s5, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1656/S1032.s5). The analysis of 31 years of radio-telemetry data has demonstrated that Florida Panthers occur at low densities and occupy large home ranges (Belden et al. 1988). In order to maintain their social organization (Logan and Sweanor 2001), wild Pumas communicate their presence using a variety of methods. These methods include vocalizing, claw-marking logs (McBride and McBride 2011), and scent-marking their travel routes with urine and scat (Hornocker Figure 4. One of 3 male panthers which scent-marked the log at this site, on 8 of 9 visits. 2012 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 353 and Negri 2010). In our literature review, we found that captive felids have been observed scent-marking objects with facial glands (Hornocker and Negri 2010, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). When Puma rub their faces against an object, sebaceous glands are activated, which produce an oily secretion called sebum in the base of hair follicles (Eurell and Frappier 2006). This act of facial rubbing draws the sebum to the epidermal surface, where continued rubbing allows it to be deposited on objects. In addition to our literature review, we interviewed 10 professional Puma hunters from Paraguay, Mexico, and the southwestern United States, who use trained hounds to hunt Pumas on bare ground. This type of hunting depends on the hound’s ability to independently detect Puma scent on a variety of substrates and objects, without the advantage of a houndsman directing them to follow fresh tracks in snow. All 10 hunters frequently observed their hounds showing a pronounced interest in the tips of overhanging limbs or branches that are approximately at or above the shoulder height of an adult Puma. Like us, these hunters thought Pumas had accidentally brushed scent on overhanging limbs and branches as they passed by. Using trail cameras in Florida, the authors discovered that Panthers deliberately scent-marked these limbs, as well as downed logs, by rubbing them with their facial glands. This activity results in a scent marker that lasts for weeks, in contrast to the faint scent left in their tracks, which becomes undetectable by hounds within a matter of hours (McBride and McBride 2007). Based on the frequency trained hounds alert to this durable yet invisible scent marker, it is possible this form of communication is used more often than some of the more visible methods panthers use to mark their travel routes. This biological note represents the first photographic evidence of how wild Panthers of both genders scent-mark objects with facial glands. 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 editing. We also acknowledge the contribution of the following professional houndsmen, who collectively have over 350 + years of Puma-hunting experience: J. Buhler (NV), L. Chapa (MX), J. Davis (CA), S. Derenger (AZ), W. Glenn (AZ), K. Kimbro (AZ), C. Leeder (UT), R. McBride, Jr. (PG), R.M. McBride (TX), and S. Smith (AZ). Literature cited Belden, R.C., W.B. Frankenberger, R.T. McBride, and S.T. Schwikert. 1988. Panther habitat use in southern Florida. Journal of Wildlife Management 52(4):660–663. Doving, K.B., and D. Trotier. 1998. Structure and function of the vomeronasal organ. Journal of Experimental Biology 201:2913–2925. Eurell, J.A., and B.L. Frappier (Eds.). 2006. Dellmann’s Textbook of Veterinary Histology. 6th Edition. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Ames, IA. 416 pp. Hart, B.L., and M.G. Leedy. 1987. Stimulus and hormone determinants of Flehmen behavior in cats. Hormones and Behavior 21:44–52. Hornocker, M., and S. Negri (Eds.). 2010. Cougar: Ecology and Conservation. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 306 pp. 354 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 11, No. 2 Logan, K.A., and L.L. Sweanor. 2001. Details of a Desert Carnivore Logan. Island Press, Covelo, CA. 463 pp. McBride, R.T., and C.E. McBride. 2010. Florida Panther flehmen response at baited trail camera site. Southeastern Naturalist 9:629–631. McBride, R.T., and C.E. McBride. 2011. Photographic evidence of Florida Panthers claw-marking logs. Southeastern Naturalist 10:384–386. McBride Jr., R.T., and R.T. McBride. 2007. Safe and selective capture technique for jaguars in the Paraguayan Chaco. Southwestern Naturalist 52(4):570–577. Seidensticker, J., M.G. Hornocker, V.W. Wiles, and J.P. Messick. 1973. Mountain lion social organization in the Idaho Primitive Area. Wildlife Monographs 60:1–60. Sunquist, M., and F. Sunquist 2002. Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. Pp. 143–151.