Mountain Lion - Cougar

Puma (Felis) concolor

Powerful, graceful and supremely adaptable, the mountain lion - or, cougar, panther, puma, catamount or painter - laid claim to a range that encompassed most of the New World, from the snowy fields of the Yukon to the forested coastal mountains of Tierra del Fuego and from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the Atlantic. It occupied more territory and more environmental niches than any other land mammal (other than the Homo sapien) in the Western Hemisphere.

Appearance and Anatomy of Mountain Lions

Shape: similar to short-haired house cat, with a relatively small head, shortened face, small and rounded ears, elongated body, and long neck and tail

Typical Length: males, about eight to as much as nine feet from the nose to the tip of its tail, and females, about six to seven feet

Typical Shoulder Height: two to two and one-half feet

Usual Weight: males, 125 to 160 pounds, and females, 80 to 100 pounds

Color: Tawny to rufous to buff to bluish gray along the back and sides with lighter colored belly, throat and inner legs and with a black-bracketed nose and a dark-tipped tail

Hunting Attributes: powerful legs suited for rapid acceleration and pouncing and teeth designed for seizing, slashing and tearing

Modern Distribution, Range and Habitat

Remarkably, in spite of relentless human intrusion, the mountain lion has retained much of its original distribution throughout the New World, although by 1900, it had been hunted almost into extinction in the eastern United States. A century later, it had begun to return to the eastern states, drawn primarily by the burgeoning white-tailed deer population.

The mountain lion - a solitary, nocturnal animal - may stake out a range of several dozen square miles, with the size of its area defined largely by the abundance of prey. Typically, the male, declaring his ownership by scents, refuses to share his range with other males. A female may share her range with other females, and she selects a range based, not only on the basis of prey availability, but also on proximity to male ranges and opportunities for mating. The mountain lion tends to use a core area for birthing and resting and an extended area for hunting.



The mountain lion may select a range located anywhere from the shore of the sea up to the higher elevations of mountain slopes, reaching up to elevations up to 11,000 feet in California and as high as 15,000 feet in Ecuador, according to Walker's Mammals of the World. It may migrate up into the higher elevations in the summer and down into lower elevations in winter.

Except for females with kittens, the mountain lion shelters, not in a fixed den, but rather in crevices, caves and dense brush. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Internet site, they have been found living in populated areas, in drainage ditches and culverts.

The mountain lion is so adaptable that it may thrive, said the Our Lands and Their Creatures Internet site, in habitats varying from "lowland tropical forests, swamps, and grassland, to mountain conifer forests, desert scrub, and any location with adequate cover and prey." As a stalk-and-ambush predator, the mountain lion, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture Internet site, prefers densely forested areas in coastal swamps such as those of southern Florida, and it tends to choose vegetated ridges, rocky cliffs and ledges, and other solid covers in inland areas such as those of the Southwest desert basin and mountain range country.


Hunting Habits, Diet and Predator Foes

The mountain lion hunts by stalking and ambushing, often pouncing on its prey from an elevated vantage point or running it down with a burst of speed. If possible, it attacks the back of its prey, crushing the neck with its teeth. It uses its large front paws and heavy claws to clutch its prey. Usually, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture paper, "Managing Mountain Lion Problems," the mountain lion removes its prey's viscera and eats the heart, liver and lungs first.

In the United States, the mountain lion often favors white tail and mule deer, but it will prey on any animal it can catch, including anything from elk, moose and bighorn sheep to rodents, reptiles and birds. Some even eat insects.

Typically, the mountain lion caches its larger kills, secreting them in secluded spots and covering them with leaves and branches. It returns to feed from its kill for several days. On average, it may kill a larger animal once a week. A female with kittens to feed may kill more frequently. An adult mountain lion eats 8 to 10 pounds of meat a day, according to a fact sheet prepared by T. R. Mader, Research Director, Abundant Wildlife Society of North America.

Mature, healthy mountain lions run little risk of predation (other than by human hunters), but the young or sick may be attacked by wolf packs, bears or even other mountain lions.


Life Cycle

The male mountain lion reaches sexual maturity at about three years of age, the female, at about two and a half years of age, according to Walker's Mammals of the World. The mountain lion has no specific breeding season, but in the United States, it often mates in the late fall or early winter. The male returns to his solitary ways. The female gives birth to one to six - commonly three or four - spotted, blind kittens about three months later, typically in a den located in a dense thicket or beneath a fallen log.

She nurses her brood for about three months, introducing the kittens to meat after their first month and a half. She teaches them to hunt when they reach about six months of age, when they take on their adult colors. She may tutor them in the art of the kill for perhaps another year, when they will leave her side to face the hazards of establishing their own territories. She will take her rest from rearing mountain lions for perhaps a year. With luck, a mountain lion may live in the wild for 8 to 10 years. It might live in captivity for 20 years.

Taxonomy of the Mountain Lion

Kingdom -- Animalia -- All animals
Phylum -- Chordata -- Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish
Class -- Mammalia -- Vertebrate, milk-producing animals with hair
Order -- Carnivora -- Cats, canines, bears, badgers, weasels, skunks and others
Family -- Felidae -- Mountain lions, jaguarundis, bobcats, Canadian lynx, jaguars, tigers, lions, margays, ocelots, leopards, cheetahs and domestic cats
Genus -- Puma -- Mountain lion, jaguarundis
Species -- Puma concolor -- Mountain Lion

A Few Mountain Lion Facts

Exceptionally agile, the mountain lion can leap more than 18 feet in height and more than 20 feet in length. It can drop more than 50 feet from a vantage point onto prey without suffering injury. - Geocities Internet site

The mountain lion can run approximately 35 miles for hour for short distances.

The Mountain Lion uses its long, heavy tail like a rudder when turning sharply to catch prey such as deer. - San Francisco State University Internet site

The mountain lion holds the Guinness record for the animals with the highest number of names. In the English language the mountain lion has more than 40 names.

Unlike the tiger or the African lion, the mountain lion cannot roar because of the structure of its larynx, or voice box. Instead, it produces a high-pitched scream, earning it a place in American folklore. - San Francisco State University Internet site

Common Questions About Mountain Lions

Do mountain lions attack people?

Do mountain lions attack livestock and pets?

How can I protect my family as well as my livestock and pets from mountain lion attacks?

Mountain Lion Basics

3 Mountain Lions on trail next to a creek


--Source/writer: Jay Sharp




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