Kills, caches, drag marks

An animal preyed upon by a panther can be identified by the unique manner in which a panther kills and consumes its prey. Panthers generally suffocate their prey by biting the throat at the base of the lower jaw and collapsing the trachea (windpipe). Another method used by panthers is to bite the back of the neck at the base of the skull, dislocating the vertebra. This instantly paralyzes and quickly kills their prey. Panthers are very efficient at subduing prey and the carcasses of their prey show very little external damage until a panther begins to eat it. Conversely, animals that have multiple bites on other parts of their body, such as their legs or belly, and gaping wounds not associated with feeding by the predator, are indicative of dog or coyote attacks.

As a panther feeds, it typically enters the body cavity through the chest and eats the vital organs first, particularly the heart and liver. The ribs are often chewed off, sometimes to near the backbone. The entrails (stomach and intestines) are not eaten, but are removed and buried nearby. When the panther has eaten its fill, it will cover its prey item by raking leaf litter and other ground debris on top of it. This is known as a cache. This preserves the carcass surprisingly well even in warm temperatures. The panther will return several times to continue feeding on the carcass. Each time it will uncover the remains, usually move it a short distance and feed, and then cover it again.  A prey item left uncovered indicates the panther is done feeding and will not return.

Pine needles conceal a recent panther kill in this cache

A panther standing next to its cache site

When a panther makes a kill, it drags its meal to a secluded location, usually into some thick, brushy vegetation where it can eat undisturbed. Panthers typically grab their prey by the neck region and then straddle the body while walking forward. A drag mark on open ground will be noticeable as a disturbed area a couple of feet wide, depending on the size of the animal being dragged, with panther tracks on either side of the drag mark. Drag marks may be obvious if the carcass was moved across bare sand or subtle if it was moved across grass. Vegetation will be bent down or broken and will point in the direction of travel. Another clue can be hair from the carcass getting caught on any protruding obstructions such as rocks, logs or branches.

A panther feeding on prey in thick cover

Drag mark in the sand shows panther tracks on either side of a smoothed out area where the carcass was dragged along the ground.


FWC Facts:
Burrowing owls nest in burrows often also occupied by gopher tortoises.

Learn More at AskFWC