Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Pumas, or mountain lions, are mostly thought of as solitary cats -- lone predators, stalking in the night. But new research suggests the felines are more social than previously thought.
Until now, scientists believed pumas interacted only to mate, settle territorial disputes and raise offspring. But a combination of GPS-equipped collars and motion-triggered cameras allowed a group of researchers with the University of California, Davis and the American Museum of Natural History to document hundreds of social interactions among mountain lions in northwest Wyoming.
Scientists analyzed footage of puma interactions while sharing 242 carcasses. The results -- detailed this week in the journal Science Advances -- revealed new insights into social feeding and other social behaviors.
"Our research shows that food sharing among this group of mountain lions is a social activity, which cannot be explained by ecological and biological factors alone," Mark Lubell, director of the UC Davis Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior, said in a news release.
Scientists found pumas interacted once every 11 or 12 days in the winter.
"It's the complete opposite of what we've been saying about pumas and solitary species for over 60 years," said Mark Elbroch, lead scientist with the Panthera Puma Program. "We were shocked. This research allows us to break down mythologies and question what we thought we knew."
All of the pumas included in the study shared food with every other puma at least once over the course of the study, and many ate side-by-side several times. In fact, cats were more likely to share food with peers they had dined with in the past, suggesting their social feedings aren't random.
The analysis of interactions also revealed social networks within terrifies dominated by a dominant male. Pumas within each network were more likely to dine with one another than with those outside their network.
Across each territorial region, small networks of pumas are governed by a single dominant male. The loss of a top male can disrupt the many subordinate networks.
Pumas aren't the only solitary cats. Outside of lions and cheetahs, most feline predators are considered solitary. But the latest research may inspire scientists to take a closer look at the interactions among other solitary predators.
"This opens the door to enormous possibilities," Elbroch said. "Are pumas everywhere behaving the same, or only in areas with large prey? Are other species like leopards and wolverines and so many others acting the same way? There is so much more to discover about the rich, secret social lives of wild creatures."