Puma concolor

Close-up portrait of a cougar, Puma concolor

Cougars earn their keystone species status due to their messy eating habits. They leave lots of leftovers for smaller carnivores and scavengers to consume.

Range map of the cougar

Close-up portrait of a cougar, Puma concolor. Click for larger image.

Cougars prey on a variety of animals, ranging from mice and rabbits to deer and sheep.

The cougar, also known as the puma or mountain lion, is a large predator that usually hunts alone. Its range spans most of the Americas, from Canada down to Chile.

In the South American region of Patagonia, scientists have been using GPS collars to track cougars and observe their feeding behavior. This research has led to a new understanding of how cougars help cycle nutrients in the Patagonian ecosystem.

Andean condor flying. Click for larger image.

Andean condors are scavengers that depend on carrion. In one study, they were observed at 43% of puma kills.

The scientists discovered that the Patagonian cougars are “messy eaters.” They leave behind a large amount of meat compared to other top predators. These leftovers are an important food source for scavengers, such as the Andean condor. These cougars also frequently abandon fresh kills, possibly to avoid being bothered by scavengers or seen by human hunters. Their abandoned food can feed smaller carnivores.