Historically, mountain lions had the most extensive distribution of all American terrestrial mammals. They ranged from coast to coast in North America, and from southern Argentina and Chile to southeastern Alaska. Extermination efforts, hunting pressure, and habitat destruction have restricted their range 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.
Mountain lions are large, slender cats. The pelage has a short and coarse texture. The general coloration ranges from a 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 mature animals are grayish brown to golden. The tail is long, cylindrical, and about one-third of the animal's total length. The limbs are short and muscular. The feet are broad, with four digits on hind feet and five on forefeet. The pollex is small and set above the other digits. The retractile claws are sharp and curved. The skull is noticeably broad and short. The forehead region is high and arched. The rostrum and the nasal bones are broad. The dental formula is 3/3 1/1 3/2 1/1. The mandible is short, deep, and powerfully constructed. The carnassial teeth are massive and long. The canines are heavy and compressed. The incisors are small and straight. Mountain lions have one more small premolar on each side of the upper jaw than do bobcats and lynx.
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.
Males maintain territories that overlap with those of several females. They attempt to dominate matings with those females.
A mountain lion in the wild will not mate until it has established a home territory. When the female is in estrous, she vocalizes freely and frequently rubs against nearby objects. The male responds with similar yowls and sniffs the female's genital area. The highest frequency of copulation was nine times in one hour. A single copulatory act lasts less than one minute. There is a 67% chance of conception per mated estrous
Courtship and mating occurs throughout the year, but is concentrated from December to March in northern latitudes. Gestation periods last from 82 to 96 days. A female mountain lion can come into estrus any time of the year. Estrus lasts about nine days. Females usually give birth every other year. After six cycles without mating, the female has a lull for two months before coming into estrous again. Males remain reproductively active to at least an age of 20 years, and females to at least an age of 12 years. Litters vary in size from 1 to 6 cubs with an average of 3 or 4. Birth weight is between 226 to 453 grams. The cubs open their eyes 10 days after birth. At the same time their ear pinnae unfolds, their first teeth erupt, and they begin play. The cubs are fully weaned at about 40 days of age. Mother and cubs remain together for as long as 26 months, though the average is 15 months. Male young disperse from 23 to 274 km, while females disperse from 9 to 140 km. Males reach sexual maturity 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, with the exception of 1 to 6 days of associations during mating and periods of juvenile dependence. Population densities vary from as low as one individual per 85 square kilometers to as high as one per 13 to 54 square kilometers, depending on the density of prey and other resources in the area. Females with dependent cubs live within the wide space used by the resident male. Mountain lions mark their territories by depositing urine or fecal materials by trees marked with scrapes. Mountain lions are primarily nocturnal. Males are found together immediately after leaving their mother, but rarely as established adults. Mountain lions have summer and winter home ranges in some areas, requiring a migration between ranges.
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 reproductive state.
Mountain lions are carnivores. Their main prey throughout their range are different species of ungulates, 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 ungulates per lion per year. Mountain lions cache 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.
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 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.
Some subspecies are listed in CITES Appendix I; all others are Appendix II. Some populations are listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Two populations listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act are considered extinct (Puma concolor schorgeri and Puma concolor couguar). Puma concolor coryi, Florida panthers, and Puma concolor costaricensis are considered endangered and extant.
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. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.
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 use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
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. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, 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 terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
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.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
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.