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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
350 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 11, No. 2
Figure 1. On 2 separate occasions, an adult male Panther facial gland scent-marked the same
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).
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