What Are the Differences Between a Cougar & a Cheetah?

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Cougars and cheetahs share a few similarities, such as belonging to the same subfamily of cats and being meat eaters. But several things differentiate the two, from living on different continents to having a contrasting social structure. Cougars are also known as pumas, mountain lions and panthers -- but not black panthers.

Habitat

From the snow-capped mountains of Canada down to the swamps of Florida and from the jungles of Brazil to the deserts of Arizona, cougars live in a variety of habitats in both North and South America. They're able to withstand a host of temperatures, both freezing and scorching. In contrast, cheetahs thrive in only one geographical location and that's Africa, where the climate largely remains sweltering and dry throughout the year. They live mostly in open grasslands.

Hunting Habits

Cheetahs take advantage of their slender bodies, creeping within the stalks of grass during the day to hunt their prey. Once dinner is spotted, the fastest mammal on earth -- cheetahs can accelerate from 0 to 60 within three seconds -- sprints into action and slams into his victim. After that, the hunt is effectively over and the cheetah finishes off his victim with his powerful jaws. Cougars prefer hunting at night, although they will hunt during the day. The Feline Conservation Federation notes that while cougars can sprint, they much prefer stealthy ambushes. The big cats often climb along rock ledges, slink between trees and conceal themselves within thick brush. When close enough, the cougar springs into action, jumping onto his prey and killing it with a bite to its neck. While cheetahs eat their meal in one sitting and typically do not return to it, cougars revisit their kill to feast several times.

Appearance

Cougars sport a variety of coats that include orangish-brown, reddish-brown and dark gray. Cheetahs typically have a tan coat that's decorated in black spots. Cougars are the larger of the two animals in just about every which way, from their paws to their head. Cheetahs range from 86 to 143 pounds, 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet long and a little over 2 feet to just under 3 feet tall. The larger cougar weighs in between 75 and 160 pounds, has a body length of between 5 and 8 1/2 feet and stands about 2 1/2 feet tall.

Social Behavior

Cougars are rarely on good terms with their kin. They prefer a solitary life and have no role in raising or protecting a female's litter. On the flip side, cheetahs are more social creatures. Males -- related and unrelated -- often form small groups and hunt together and even groom one another. Females typically live alone, but the San Diego Zoo points out that they may share overlapping territories with each other. Like male cougars, male cheetahs do not provide for their cubs.

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