Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mysteries of American big cats

Dr. Darren Naish here presents one photo I've seen before and a much older one I had not, both showing adult American pumas (Puma concolor) with spots. Normally, pumas have spots only as babies, but the genetic card deck deals some odd hands every once in a while. Naish goes on to explore the extinct American cheetah and what might be the connections between the cheetahs (two species), the puma, and that odd puma variant called the onza. (Watch out for linguistics: In the Honduran National Museum in Tegucigalpa I saw a stuffed ocelot labeled "onza." ) One cat Naish does not mention is Ivan Sanderson's "ruffed cat," represented by three skins (two now destroyed, while the third's whereabouts are unknown) from South America which showed full spotting and a neck ruff. One species of the American cheetah has recently been likened more to a snow leopard than to a cheetah. Is this the ruffed cat?

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