Publisher’s Note: While it’s not often to see a Florida Panther north of Lake Okeechobee, you may glimpse a coyote or bobcat and wonder what crossed your path. If you are so lucky to see any one of these beautiful Florida creatures, this guide will help you know the difference.
By Diane J. Episcopio, Elizabeth F. Pienaar, and Martin B. Main
The Florida panther is a subspecies of puma, also known as cougars and mountain lions, and is listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists estimate that there are between 120 and 230 panthers in Florida. Today, the range of the Florida panther is largely restricted to Florida, with the highest concentration of panthers occurring south of Lake Okeechobee, though they have been documented throughout the peninsula and even into Georgia.
Identifying a Florida Panther
Panthers can sometimes be confused with bobcats, dogs, and coyotes. Below are some photos to help you determine whether you have seen a panther versus the other animals.
One of the most reliable ways of identifying the presence of a panther is by looking at tracks left by the animal. The front paws of an adult panther leave tracks that generally measure 3 inches in length by 3 inches in width. The hind paws leave tracks that are slightly smaller. Both adult and juvenile panthers leave larger tracks than bobcats. A bobcat track is approximately half the size of a panther track.
Figure 7 shows some defining characteristics of a panther track. Panther toes create a teardrop-shaped imprint. The arrangement of the toes is asymmetrical around the pad. Panther tracks (Figure 8) are most commonly confused with the tracks of dogs and coyotes (Figures 9 and 10). Panthers have retractable claws while dogs and coyotes do not. As a result, dog and coyote tracks typically include the imprints of claws, whereas panther prints usually do not have claw marks. The presence of claw marks for panther prints depends on what surface the animal was crossing and whether the animal was running at the time.
The pads of dogs and coyotes tend to be triangular in shape, whereas panthers have a trapezoidal shaped pad. Another key feature of a panther’s track are the 3 distinct lobes at the base of the pad.
What to Do if You Have Seen a Panther
1. This document is WEC145, one of a series of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date April 2001. Revised June 2008. Reviewed August 2014. Revised February 2018. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Diane J. Episcopio, email@example.com, Masters student, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension; Elizabeth F. Pienaar, firstname.lastname@example.org, assistant professor and Extension specialist – Human Dimensions of Wildlife, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension; and Martin B. Main, associate dean and Extension program leader, natural resources and Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Photo credits: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, with the exception of Photo 3. Bobcat which is by Bill Wilmeth