Historical and Other Patterns of Monomethyl and Inorganic Mercury in the Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi)

  • J. NewmanEmail author
  • E. Zillioux
  • E. Rich
  • L. Liang
  • C. Newman


Since the late 1980s, elevated levels of mercury have been reported in the tissues of the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) from the Florida Everglades. The extent, degree, and length of time of mercury contamination in the Florida panther are unknown. The objective of this study was to determine the historical and other patterns of monomethyl and inorganic mercury in the Florida panther by analysis of mercury in panther hair from museum collections. In addition, this study evaluated the effects of preservation of skins on mercury concentrations in hair and the representativeness of museum collections for evaluating historical trends of contamination in the Florida panther. Hair from 42 Florida panther specimens collected from 1896 to 1995 was analyzed for both monomethyl and inorganic mercury. Monomethyl mercury (MMHg) and inorganic mercury (IHg) were found in all specimens. Monomethyl mercury in hair from untanned skins was significantly higher than MMHg in hair from tanned skins. For untanned specimens, the mean MMHg concentration in hair was 1.62 ± 1.87 μg/g (range 0.11 to 6.68 μg/g, n = 16). Monomethyl mercury accounted for 88% of the total mercury in untanned Florida panther hair. No sexual or geographical differences were found. Although MMHg is generally stable in hair, the tanning process appears to reduce the amount of MMHg in hair. In addition, exogenous IHg contamination of the panther hair was found in museum specimens, especially in older specimens. The implication of these and other factors in interpreting results of museum studies is discussed. The presence of MMHg in panther hair since the 1890s indicates long-term and widespread exposure of the Florida panther to mercury. Levels of MMHg are significantly greater in the 1990s than the 1890s. When combined with field studies of mercury in the Florida panther, considerable individual variability is observed, reflecting short-term changes in exposure of individual panthers to mercury. Although museum specimens showed a significant increase in MMHg over the last 100 years, they did not show the magnitude of increase that field populations of Florida panthers did. A number of Florida panthers appeared to be at risk from mercury over their lifetimes, especially individuals from the early 1990s.


Mercury Mercury Concentration Total Mercury Museum Specimen Museum Collection 
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This project was partially supported by funding from Florida Power & Light Company and by a grant by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Nongame Wildlife Program. Cooperation is greatly appreciated of the following museums’ curators: the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida; the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and in particular to Laurie Wilkins and Candice MacCaffrey of the Florida Museum of Natural History for their time and assistance in providing access to the specimens. Special acknowledgement is given to the late Dr. Earl Rich of University of Miami who, along with his wife Donna Rich, was responsible for initially contacting the museums and for the collection of many of the museum specimens. His advice and encouragement are sorely missed. Similar acknowledgement is given to the late Dr. O. T. Owre of the University of Miami for help in early problem formulation and to the late Carolyn Glass of FWC for access to panther specimens. Acknowledgement is especially given to Dr. Melody Roelke of FWC whose collections and discussions on the Florida panther helped with the project background and analysis of the results. Special thanks go to Karen C. Hill for her editing and preparation of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Newman
    • 1
    Email author
  • E. Zillioux
    • 2
  • E. Rich
    • 3
  • L. Liang
    • 4
  • C. Newman
    • 1
  1. 1.Pandion Systems, Inc.GainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Florida Power & Light CompanyJuno BeachUSA
  3. 3.University of MiamiMiamiUSA
  4. 4.CEBAM Analytical, Inc.North SeattleUSA

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