Mountain Lions

Mountain Lion
Mountain Lion

NPS

The Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) is the second largest member of the cat family in the Americas (after the Jaguar) and the fourth largest in the world after the Tiger, Lion and Jaguar. Cougar is just one of its many names that it is known by throughout its vast range. Six sub-species are recognized but five of them are found only in Central and South America. The Puma concolor couguar is the sub-species found in North America.

Characteristics
The adult male:

  • can be over eight feet long when measured from its nose to the tip of its long tail
  • weighs from 120 to 200 pounds

The adult female:

  • weighs between 60 and 120 pounds
  • Fur is a tan to light golden brown
  • Head is round with upright ears. It has five retractable claws on its front paws and four on its hind paws.

Cougars hiss, growl and purr as well as "scream," but it does not roar like the bigger cats.

Range and Habitat
The mountain lion has the largest range of any wild land animal in the western hemisphere. They are usually south of the land that drains north into the Arctic Ocean and extend all the way through South America. They will inhabit all types of forest as well as lowlands and mountainous deserts, especially liking those with canyons, escapements and rocky ledges. Settlement and expanding populations eliminated the cougar from virtually all of the eastern United States except parts of Florida.

Predator and Prey
The mountain lion is a predator and only eats meat. Mule and white tailed deer along with elk and an occasional moose are its favorite prey, but they will also take bighorn sheep and wild horses as well as porcupines, rabbits and hares and even mice. In 2004 mountain lions took 27 of 28 foals on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

For its size it has the largest hind legs in the cat family which lets it stalk its prey and then attack with short bursts of speed and great leaping ability thus landing on the prey's back and biting the neck. Preferring habitat with dense brush, trees, and rocky ledges cougars can ambush as well as stalk. The home range can vary from 10 to 300 square miles and depends primarily on prey abundance.

Mating and Birth
Mating is brief but often. The gestation period is three months. The cubs are raised solely by the females which are fiercely protective of their young. While litter size may range from just one to as many as six, two or three is more common. The kittens are born blind and are weaned around three months. At about six months they will begin to accompany their mother and feed at kill sites and then learn to stalk and attack. They attain near adult size shortly after one year, but may not leave their mother until about the age of two.

Sightings at Bighorn Canyon
While the mountain lion is often considered an apex predator, it must compete with grizzly bears, black bears, grey wolves and even alligators. A mountain lion may kill an individual wolf but a pack of wolves is a different matter. The cougar's tree climbing ability may allow it to escape a pack of wolves, and their presence will often displace a lion off its kill and cause females to choose other areas in which to raise their young.

Safety
Cougars will occasionally attack humans including lone joggers which may trigger a reaction to "escaping prey" or stalk and attack children. It is best to maintain eye contact, shout and fight back with anything at hand. Usually mountain lions will avoid humans as humans are their greatest predator. Maybe that is why sparsely populated Wyoming has the greatest mountain population of any state.

 

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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Mailing Address:

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Headquarters Office
PO Box 7458

Fort Smith, MT 59035

Phone:

(307) 548-5406

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