Posted on: October 16, 2010 6:32 AM, by Darren Naish

I've never used this picture before as I assume that most interested people have seen it. But, whatever...

spotted-puma -Belize-2002-resized-Oct-2010.jpg

The animal is a Puma Puma concolor, and it was photographed in Belize in 2002 by a remote camera (the photo comes via Marcella Kelly and has featured widely on websites that cover mystery cats). The obvious interpretation is that this near-adult individual (its proportions indicate that it's not fully grown) abnormally retained the spots present during immaturity. And it's not the only spotted puma on record. There's also this one (below), featured here in a photograph from 1936 and mentioned here at messybeast. I've also noticed that at least a few Florida panthers seem to retain faint spots into adulthood (see below) - is this anything to do with them being highly inbred? [the Florida panther has conventionally been regarded as a subspecies - Puma concolor coryi - but some molecular work has failed to support its distinction relative to recognised puma clades (Culver et al. 2000)].


The remote possibility exists that the animal photographed in Belize is a hybrid, but this seems less likely than the idea of spot retention. Anyone who knows cats will be familiar with the fact that members of other plain-coated species have also retained the spots of their juvenile phase into adulthood on occasion: the best example being the few spotted lions that are on record. On a very speculative note, the fact that spots can re-occur as a developmental quirk in a plain-coated species raises the possibility that any such species might be able to re-evolve spots, should such a condition crop up and then be favoured by selection. Lions and pumas both descend from spotted ancestors (Werdelin & Olsson 1997, Ortolani 1999), but the idea that they might evolve spotted morphs or populations is a very real one. And, indeed, some people have argued that there is a spotted lion and that it's a valid phylogenetic entity: it's called the Marozi and was named Panthera leo maculatus by Reginald Pocock (cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans championed its existence in his writings). Its existence is not generally accepted today.

Here's the Florida panther image I had in mind (from here)....


And, if you're wondering about the title of this article, it refers to the question: would a spotted adult puma look like an American cheetah (= Miracinonyx)? The answer: judging from the two animals shown above - hmmm, not much. Of course, there is that modern 'mystery cat', likened by some to a modern American cheetah, and known from those specimens shot in Mexico in 1938 and 1986. The time to discuss it is now well overdue. Yeah, so are a lot of things.