Cougars are the largest wild cat in North America and from the Yukon down to South America. I watched a video the other day with my friend, and he asked me if they had good senses.
Cougars have an excellent sense of vision and hearing, which allows them to hunt their prey successfully. Cougars can see in low light but not complete darkness. Their senses of smell and taste are not well developed, but the Jacobsen’s organ allows them to smell female hormones.
Cougars are predators and need good senses to survive. I look at the different senses in this article to see how good they are.
Cougars rely on their eyes for most of their hunting. Cougars have large eyes compared to similar-sized mammals, and the big eyes provide a wide angle of vision. Their eyes allow them to see angles of almost 285 degrees which helps them find prey. This is much wider than a human field of vision which is 210 degrees.
Cougars have excellent night vision as their eyes contain more rods than cones, but they cannot see in complete darkness. The eyes of a cougar reflect backlight because of a layer called the tapetum lucidum.
This layer enhances visual sensitivity at low lights, meaning that cougars only need as much as one-sixth of the light that humans see in darkness.
Being able to see in low light allows the cougar to find their prey and avoid danger. Their eyes help them survive as they can see almost as well at night as they can during the day.
Cats have color vision, with domestic cats seeing different colors, and the cougar is the same. Because the cougar has fewer cones in their eyes, their ability to distinguish between colors is not as good as ours, but they can make out some. It is thought that their prey, such as deer, appears drab and brown to them.
Cougars have excellent hearing, which is better than ours. Cougars can pick up ultrasonic sounds and have a wider range than many mammals. They can detect high-pitched frequencies easily, which allows them to find even the tiniest mouse trying to escape in the snow.
Cougars’ ears can move around, which helps them to pinpoint sounds from all sides.
Cougars are solitary animals and do not want to meet humans. It is unlikely that you will see one in the wild as they will be able to hear you long before you see them.
Cougars have a poor sense of smell, so they do not hunt using scent, preferring to use their eyes and ears to find their prey. A cougar has a sense of smell about thirty times as good as ours, but this isn’t well developed compared to many other predators.
Although cougars do not use their nose to hunt, they use their sense of smell when wanting to mate. Cougars will smell the urine of a female cougar to determine whether she is in heat and ready to mate.
Cougars have a limited sense of taste. Compared to the human tongue, which contains over nine thousand taste buds, a cougars tongue has just five hundred. They don’t have receptors for sweetness on their tongue and so eat very little fruit.
Cougars cannot taste a wide range of foods, so they mainly stick to birds and mammals in their diet. They lick the fur off their prey using a very rough tongue covered in tiny bumps.
The cougar is one of the many mammals, amphibians, and reptiles with an organ that we don’t, the Jacobsen’s organ. This is a sensory organ in the roof of their mouth that is a tube opening. Located just behind the front teeth on the top jaw is an organ that is sensitive to chemicals in the air.
Jacobsen’s organ is used to detect chemicals left by females. You may have seen a domestic cat sniff an area with its mouth open before wrinkling up its nose, curling its lip, and closing its eyes. Although it may not look like they enjoyed the smell, this is called the flehmen response.
Cougars have another sense which is helpful for them to survive. Just like other cats, cougars have whiskers on their face. The whiskers have sensory nerve endings in them called Merkel cells.
Many nocturnal hunters use their whiskers to find their prey, but these aren’t just on the face. Vibrissae near the paws can sense movement close to the ground allowing the cougar to detect differences in the air pressure.
If the cougar doesn’t see or hear their prey, they may feel it moving close to them using their whiskers. Nerve endings in the base of the whisker detect airflow in their surroundings, allowing the cougar to pinpoint disturbances close to them.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.