Rearing of Young

Kittens of female panther FP19The adult female is responsible for raising the kittens and does so alone. During the two to three weeks after giving birth, the female spends most of her time nursing her kittens in the den. Still, she has to leave them to hunt and may be away for many hours.

By the time the kittens are 2 to 3 weeks old, their eyes have opened and they are able to move around the den. Their eyes are blue and their fur is spotted. They have five dark rings on their tails. The mother gradually increases her time away from them and the distance she travels. After making a kill, she will eat as much as she can and will return to the den to nurse her kittens. Cougar milk has six times more fat than cow's milk and the kittens grow rapidly. By eight weeks they weigh about 10 lbs., nine times their birth weight.

When left alone by their mother in the den, kittens sleep and play. They chase each other, and exercise their teeth and claws by chewing and scratching vegetation.

When they are about 2 months old, kittens begin to accompany their mother on hunting forays. At first she hides them nearby while she hunts. After a kill, she leads them to the site where they all feed.

Female Panther with two Spotted Kittens

By six months, the kittens’ spots are almost invisible and their blue eyes are turning brown. Gradually they are learning to hunt on their own. By nine to 12 months, they are catching small prey on their own. By one and a half years, they are still hunting small animals such as raccoon and armadillo, as well as an occasional deer or hog.

Events leading up to the separation of panther mothers and their offspring are not well documented. Panther researchers have located resident adult males near females and kittens just before the kittens dispersed. Males probably are attracted to the female's renewed sexual receptivity. Hormonal changes in the mother may cause her to encourage the offspring to disperse. In any case, by age two panther young have left their mothers to establish ranges of their own. Young females often establish a range that overlaps with their mother's range but male offspring usually are forced out of their mother's range by older males.

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