If you are fortunate to see an elusive Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryii), the first thing you will remember and describe is the long, long, large tail! Many people may think they have spotted a Panther, but it is a probability that a Bobcat (Felis rufus) was the big cat that ran by, especially if it is in an urban area.
There is no doubt there are panthers on Marco Island, patrolling through quiet neighborhoods and the mangrove fringes of Key Marco and Barfield Bay. There have been well-documented sightings and reports. One summer, a paw print on South Beach that was over 4 inches in width was definitely not a feral cat! It was the same summer that deer hoof prints were noted on Sand Dollar Island. It was not hard to imagine a Panther tracking deer, its favorite prey, along the barrier islands of our coast.
Florida Panthers are big. Big-boned, big tail, big head. They are golden brown, except for the first year of life. The coat is spotted for camouflage in the kitten den. They can weigh up to 60 to 150 pounds and can be 7 feet from nose to tail tip. They are quiet, shy and nocturnal. Sometimes, it’s only the tracks that are left that prove a panther has been around. The paw prints, or tracks, are typically 3- 4 inches in width with four toes and no claw imprints.Even the young, juvenile Panther’s paw print is larger than an adult Bobcat.
The most common sighting, though, are Bobcats. They are not nearly as large as a Panther; typically weighing up to 35 or 40 pounds. They are not heavy-boned and their tail is short and can be tucked along its rump and body. They are abundant here in southwest Florida, as well as throughout North America and have adapted to both rural and urban settings. They are not friendly or approachable, but not as shy or elusive as a panther. One Marco Island resident has a family of Bobcats that regularly rest in his yard under his hammock! They also are not nocturnal – they sleep only two to three hours at a time and can be out and about any time of the day hunting small mammals and birds. Bobcats have “mottled” spots – a beautiful coat of fur. It may be easily mistaken as a young Panther by some, but young Panthers lose their spots the first year of life and will be already 50-60 pounds. A young Panther’s spots are also more defined than the small, speckled or “mottled” spots of the Bobcat.
So what did you really see? A Florida Panther or a Bobcat? It’s the tail and size that give it away! For more information, go to www.floridapanther.org
For any additional information please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island at 239-389-5003 or firstname.lastname@example.org