The American Lion: Biology and Behavior

Spend just eight minutes and learn little known facts about the fascinating mountain lion. Get a glimpse of how a mountain lion thinks, feels, and senses. What makes the mountain lion so adaptable to a wide variety of habitats? How does their hunting differ from that of wolves and bears? What is their relationship to the ecosystem?

video courtesy of Mountain Lion Foundation
 

General Statistics:

  • Average weight: males, 140 pounds; females, 90 pounds
  • Life span: 8 to 12 years in the wild, 8 to 24 years in captivity
  • Average length: 7 feet from nose to tip of tail (tail is nearly as long as the body)
  • Cougars are also known as: Mountain Lion, Panther, Puma, Catamount, Painter, Ghost Cat.
  • Latin Name: Puma Concolor or “Cat of One Color.”
  • Cougars are able to jump up to 30 feet in distance, 18 feet in height and reach speeds of 50 mph at a sprint.
  • The fur of an adult cougar most commonly appears in a tawny golden color, but may also appear to be gray, dark brown or even cinnamon-colored.
  • Although capable of many vocalizations, cougars cannot roar but do make sounds such as low pitched hisses, growls, purrs, chirps and peeps.

Territory:

  • Cougars were once found in all 48 contiguous United States. Viable populations are now recognized in just 15 states: AZ, CA, CO, FL, ID, MT, ND, NM, NV, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA and WY.
  • Cougars are extremely adaptable and have one of the greatest distributions of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They make their home in deserts, swamps, grasslands, sub-alpine mountains and tropical rainforests.
  • A single cougar requires a minimum of 50 – 100 square miles to breed, raise young, hunt and survive. Home ranges vary in size according to season, habitat quality and prey availability, with male territories larger than those of females.

Social Nature:

  • By nature, mountain lions are elusive and reclusive, preferring to avoid contact with humans at all costs. They even avoid other cougars, except at mating season.
  • Although cougars are similar in color to African lions, cougars do not form prides, hunt in a group or share their prey.
  • Cougars, with few natural predators, keep their numbers in check through an intricate social system, a hierarchy that involves intense competition in the wild.

Reproduction:

A mother cougar and her kittens relax in a den on Millers Butte, just outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming.  © 1999 Tom Mangelsen

  • Female cougars are pregnant or raising dependent kittens for more than 73% of their lives.
  • Following a 95-day gestation period, female cougars can produce up to six kittens weighing between one to two pounds. Kittens are born with blue eyes and have blackish-brown spots and a dark-ringed tail. The spots begin to fade at three months old and disappear entirely after one year.
  • Cougar kittens rely completely on their mothers until they are 18–24 months old.
  • Cougar mothers teach vital hunting skills and how to select prey appropriately during that time. Young cougars reach adult size between 3–5 years old.

Diet:

  • Cougars are obligate carnivores. Depending on habitat, the primary diet for cougars consists of deer, elk, turkey, rabbits, porcupines, coyote and numerous other small mammals.
  • Cougars have highly developed sight. They have both diurnal and nocturnal vision so prefer low-light times of day, such as dusk and dawn, to hunt and travel.
  • To prevent other animals from scavenging their kills, cougars often bury the carcass of a recent kill with sticks and leaves, which enables them to feed on the remains for several days.  This is known as caching.

Hunting Cougars:

  • Studies have proven that sport hunting does not increase human safety.
  • The greatest cause of mortality amongst cougars is human-related. This includes illegal poaching, auto-related deaths, sport and depredation hunting, lethal removal of problematic cougars and the orphaning and often subsequent death by starvation, exposure and predation of cubs when their mother is killed by any of the above causes.