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Florida Panther Flehmen Response Recorded at Baited Trail Camera Site
Roy McBride and Cougar McBride

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 9, Issue 3 (2010): 629–631

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Florida Panther Flehmen Response Recorded at Baited Trail Camera Site Roy McBride1 and Cougar McBride1 Abstract - Although flehmen behavior is reported in felids, this display has been rarely documented in wild pumas. On 11 Nov. 2008, we recorded a female Puma concolor coryi (Florida Panther) exhibiting the flehmen response and scent marking in reaction to a baited trail camera site in Everglades National Park. The addition of scent lures to our camera sites increased the number of exposures per panther visit, enhancing the possibility of gender identification, an essential component of our annual survey. The management of the endangered Puma concolor coryi Bangs (Florida Panther) includes an annual population survey based upon physical evidence (e.g., tracks, scats, kills, urine markers, and panthers treed by hounds). Individual panther identity is based on gender, time the evidence was made, and distance between observations (McBride et al. 2008). To improve the results of this survey, we used trail cameras where tracking substrate was marginal or prohibitive for finding physical evidence. For trail camera photos to be an effective survey component, gender determination is essential. However, gender identification can be problematic, as panthers often pass quickly through the camera’s field of view without exposing their genital area. We used a pheromone scent lure to encourage panthers to linger in the field of view as long as possible, thereby increasing the chance of gender identification. Use of this attractant invoked behavioral responses from panthers, including scent marking, wallowing, and flehmening. Pumas use the flehmen response for detecting pheromones by drawing scent over the vomeronasal organ located in the roof of their mouth (Doving and Trotier 1998, Hart and Leedy 1987). Herein, we describe the first photographic evidence of a scent lure initiating the entire process of the flehmen response, followed by urine marking, in a wild Florida Panther. On 11 Nov. 2008, in Everglades National Park, a Florida Panther walked into a baited camera site and remained for one minute and four seconds, triggering 27 images on a Reconyx RC55 digital infrared camera (Reconyx Inc., Holmen, WI) (Supplemental File 1, available online at https://www.eaglehill.us/SENAonline/ suppl-files/s9-3-McBride-s1, and, for BioOne subscribers, at http://dx.doi. org/10.1656/S832.s1). Although the cameras were set on a pre-programmed setting of “5 pictures, rapidfire, no quiet period”, there were malfunctions that resulted in gaps of up to 10 seconds in the chronology of images. The lure was placed in a mound of grass to protect it from the elements and prolong retention of the scent. In image 1, the gender of the Panther was indistinguishable, and the lure was still undetected. In image 2, the Panther located the lure, and in images 3–10, the Panther investigated and reacted to the lure. In images 11–12, a full flehmen response was demonstrated (Fig. 1), and in images 13-14, the grimace diminished, although the mouth was still agape. In images 15-16, the Panther ended the flehmen response. During the remainder of the images (17-27), the Panther reinvestigated the lure, revealed its gender, made a scent marker (Fig. 2), and left the field of view. The addition of scent lures at camera sites allowed us to view multiple postures as Panthers demonstrated complex behavioral responses. Each additional image Notes of the Southeastern Nat u ral ist, Issue 9/3, 2010 629 Rancher’s Supply, Inc. - Livestock Protection Company, 26690 Pine Oaks Road, Ochopee, fl34141. 630 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 9, No. 3 Figure 1. Female Florida Panther exhibiting the flehmen behavior in response to a scent lure. Figure 2. Female Florida Panther urine marking at a baited camera site. increased the opportunity to determine physical characteristics, such as gender, general health, pregnancies, and anomalies (i.e., scars, notched ears, and crooked tails) that have proven useful for individual identification. 2010 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 631 Acknowledgments. We thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for funding our annual Panther survey and John Kellam for his assistance with manuscript and photographic edits. We also thank Oron Bass and Mark Perry at Everglades National Park for helicopter transportation to remote trail camera locations. We appreciated and used the editorial recommendations of the journal’s reviewers and subject editor. Literature Cited 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 hormone determinants of Flehme behavior in cats. Hormones and Behavior 21:44-52. McBride, R.T., R.T. McBride, R.M. McBride, and C.E. McBride. 2008. Counting Pumas by categorizing physical evidence. Southeastern Naturalist 7:381-400.