panther chasing a wild hog
Photo Credit: Steve Feltus

Panthers, like most cats, are solitary hunters. They are most active at the same time their prey is likely to be active: dawn and dusk. Biologists refer to animals that are most active at these times as crepuscular. During the day and particularly in the summer, panthers usually rest in a day bed made within the shade of a palmetto thicket.

When hunting, panthers stalk their prey, moving silently and then freezing their motion to avoid detection. Unlike dogs and wolves, that chase their prey until it tires, panthers rush short distances and spring as far as 15 feet for the kill. With claws extended, their front paws grasp the prey around its neck and shoulders while the claws of the hind feet dig into the prey's flanks. Panthers usually kill large prey by a bite to the back of the neck severing the spinal cord. Sometimes the animal is killed by a suffocating bite to the throat. Young deer and smaller mammals may be killed by bites to the skull.

After the kill, a panther will drag large animals such as deer or hog into an area of thick vegetation. A mother with kittens old enough to travel outside the den will call or lead her kittens to the kill. The ribs are usually chewed off and the body cavity opened. The heart, liver, and lungs are eaten, as well as the large muscle masses of the shoulders and hindquarters. The internal organs provide vitamin A and other nutrients. The large bones are broken and chewed. The panther often removes the stomach and intestines and covers them nearby with leaf litter and twigs. Smaller animals such as raccoons and rabbits are usually eaten in their entirety. Armadillos also are largely consumed whole but with the exception of their bony plates and tail.

Panthers may consume 20 to 30 pounds of meat at one time. A female panther with kittens may consume even more. After the panther has its fill, it rakes leaves, twigs and other debris over the carcass in what biologists refer to as a cache. This helps hide and protect the carcass from scavengers. If it is not too warm and humid, the panther may return to feed on the carcass for several days.

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