Mountain lions are large, slender cats. The fur is short, coarse, and ranges from yellowish brown to grayish brown on the upper parts and a paler, almost buffy, color on the belly. The throat and chest are whitish. Mountain lions have a pinkish nose with a black border that extends to the lips. The muzzle stripes, the area behind ears, and the tip of tail are black. The eyes of adult animals are grayish brown to golden. The tail is long, cylindrical, and about one-third of total body length. The limbs are short and muscular. The feet are broad, with four digits on hind feet and five on forefeet. The retractile claws are sharp and curved. The skull is broad and short, with a high, arched forehead and massive teeth modified for grabbing and slicing prey.
Males are larger than females. Head and body length ranges from 1020 to 1540 mm in males and 860 to 1310 mm in females. Tail length ranges from 680 to 960 mm in males and 630 to 790 mm in females. Males weigh from 36 to 120 kg and females from 29 to 64 kg.
Historically, mountain lions had the largest distribution of all American terrestrial mammals. They ranged from coast to coast in North America, and from southern Argentina and Chile, in South America, to southeastern Alaska. Extermination efforts, hunting pressure, and habitat destruction have isolated populations of mountain lions to relatively mountainous, unpopulated areas throughout much of their range. Populations in eastern North America were entirely exterminated, except for a small population of Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi). In recent years populations have begun to expand into areas of human habitation, especially in the western United States. Mountain lions are now fairly common in suburban areas of California and have recently been sighted as far east as urban Kansas City, Missouri, where several have been hit by cars. Mountain lion sightings in eastern North America, outside of southern Florida, are still more likely to be escaped or abandoned "pet" mountain lions or other large cats.
Mountain lions use a wide variety of habitats including montane coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, grassland, dry brush country, swamps, and any areas with adequate cover and prey. Dense vegetation, caves, and rocky crevices provide shelter.
Males maintain territories that overlap with those of several females. They attempt to dominate matings with those females.
Mountain lions begin mating when they have established their own territory. Females make sounds and rub themselves against objects to advertise to local males that they are ready to mate.
Mating occurs throughout the year, but is concentrated from December to March in northern parts of their range. Females are pregnant for 82 to 96 days and give birth to 1 to 6 kittens, with an average of 3. Kittens weigh 226 to 453 grams at birth, their eyes and ears are closed and they have no teeth. At 10 days old they open their eyes, their ears unfold, their first teeth erupt, and they begin to play with their litter mates. They nurse for about 40 days. Mother and cubs remain together for as long as 26 months, though the average is 15 months. Males generally move farther, once they've left their mother, than do females. Males are ready to breed at about 3 years of age and females at 2 1/2 years.
Mother mountain lions care for and nurse their young until they are about a year old. The young are born helpless and are protected by the mother in a sheltered area until they are big enough to roam and begin to learn and practice hunting skills.
Mountain lions may live up to 18 to 20 years in the wild. They can live slightly longer in captivity.
Mountain lions are solitary animals, except during brief mating times and when females have young. Depending on the abundance of prey and other resources in an area, there may be 1 mountain lion in anywhere from 13 to 85 square kilometers. Mountain lions in cold climates may have to migrate between summer and winter ranges. They are capable of moving over large distances. Mountain lions mark their territories by depositing urine or fecal materials by areas called "scrapes". Mountain lions are mainly nocturnal. Male mountain lions are found together immediately after leaving their mother (usually brother pairs), but rarely as adults.
Home ranges of females range from 26 to 350 square kilometers, with an average of 140 square kilometers. Female home ranges may overlap extensively. Male home ranges do not overlap with those of other males and typically encompass the home ranges of two females. They range in size from 140 to 760 square kilometers, with an average of 280 square kilometers.
Mountain lions rely mainly on vision, smell, and hearing. They use low-pitched hisses, growls, purrs, yowls, and screams in different circumstances. Loud, chirping whistles by young serves to call the mother. Touch is important in social bonding between mother and young. Scent marking is important in advertising territory boundaries and willingness to mate.
Mountain lions are carnivores. Their main prey throughout their range are different species of deer and their relatives, including moose, elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, and caribou in North America. They will also eat smaller creatures like squirrels, muskrat, porcupine, beaver, raccoon, striped skunk, coyote, bobcats, other mountain lions, rabbits, opossums, birds, and even snails and fish. They may also prey on domestic livestock, including poultry, calves, sheep, goats, and pigs. Mountain lions have a distinctive manner of hunting larger prey. The lion quietly stalks the prey animals, then leaps at close range onto their back and breaks the animal's neck with a powerful bite below the base of the skull. Yearly food consumption is between 860 to 1,300 kg of large prey animals, about 48 deer-sized animals per lion per year. Mountain lions store large prey, dragging it up to 350 meters from the place of capture and burying it under leaves and debris. They return nightly to feed.
Mountain lions are top predators. They may be preyed on by other mountain lions, wolves, or bear when they are young or ill.
Mountain lions are important as top predators in the ecosystems in which they live. They are instrumental in controlling populations of large ungulates.
Although mountain lions are secretive and generally avoid humans, they sometimes attack humans. Attacks are usually on small adults and children traveling alone during dawn, dusk, or at night. It is thought that mountain lions mistake these humans for their ungulate prey. Mountain lions are also considered threats to domestic stock. These threats are sometimes exaggerated. It is helpful to learn more about mountain lion behavior in order to avoid encounters.
Mountain lions have considerable trophy value and are hunted for sport. They are also captured to be put in zoos. Mountain lions are important to humans in their role as top predators, helping to control populations of deer and their relatives.
Some populations of mountain lions are considered extinct, including the populations of the midwest and eastern United States. Florida panthers and the mountain lions of Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua are considered endangered. Most populations in western North America are stable, except in areas where human populations are rapidly growing.
Tanya Dewey (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Anupama Shivaraju (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.
an animal that mainly eats meat
mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.
animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
fertilization takes place within the female's body
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
having more than one female as a mate at one time
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
breeding takes place throughout the year
Baker, R.H. 1983. Michigan Mammals. Michigan State University Press, Michigan, pg 536-543.
Currier, M.J.P. 1983. Mammalian Species. The American society of Mammalogists, Michigan, pg 1-7 (200).
Nowak, R.M., Paradiso, J.L. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins
Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.