Mountain Lions Our Largest Small Cat

The Mountain Lion (Felis concolor), also called cougar, puma, catamount, and Florida panther, is the largest of the American small cats. The Jaguar is the large cat in the Americas.


 Mountain lion females weigh up to 110 pounds, while males can reach 160 pounds. Jaguars, which prefer wetter, more tropical areas, range from 100 pounds to 290 pounds and tend to be smaller in the northern part of their range. In Arizona and Mexico, mountain lions and jaguars can be the same size, so why is the mountain lion a small cat? The answer lies in vocalizations and the structure of the larynx. Small cats, including the mountain lion, purr. Nice kitty. Large cats roar and are incapable of purring.

Mountain lions have the largest range of American cats. Their range stretches from British Columbia to Patagonia in South America. It used to occur in eastern U.S. states but has been largely driven out (with the exception of the so-called Florida panther.)

Mountain lions are pure carnivores and hunt deer, bighorn sheep, javelina, jack rabbits, porcupines, other small animals, and occasionally domestic stock. When hunting, a mountain lion tries to sneak up on its prey. Although powerful, the mountain lion has a relatively small heart and lungs for its size so it lacks the endurance for a long chase. The lion kills by biting the neck of its prey. A single adult lion needs to make a kill every 6 to 10 days. Mountain lions can leap more than 18 feet high and over 20 feet horizontally.

Adult mountain lions tend to be solitary, with a range of up to 200 miles. They pair only to mate. They breed at age 2 or 3. Cubs, usually three or four, stay with the mother one to two years. Mountain lions have a natural life span of about 15 years, but have lived into their twenties in captivity.

In the wild, mountain lions den in caves, crevasses, or in brush. In more populated areas they seek culverts and drainage ditches.

In Arizona it is legal to hunt mountain lions for sport with a license. If mountain lion prey upon livestock, a rancher can take a mountain lion without a license.

Mountain lions may occasionally attack humans. Many web sites (for instance here and here.) have statistics. If confronted by a mountain lion in the wild, you have to make yourself look bigger to intimidate the lion. If you are with a group, then stand close together. Put small children on your shoulders. Wave a jacket. Look the mountain lion in the eye. Make noise, pick up a stick or rocks to throw. Do not run, that triggers a predator-prey response. If the lion does attack, target its eyes.

The mountain lion population in the United States is put at around 30,000 by various sources. Like all predators, mountain lions have a place in the scheme of things. Without predators, we would be overrun by their prey animals.


One comment

  1. Interesting that notwithstanding decades of efforts to reduce the population of “predators” in the region…the population of mountain lions seems healthy. Why has this wonderful critter done so well here?  Is it because they are very reclsuive when it comes to sensing humans and getting out of our way? Unlike the coyotes who seem to be happily increasing their numbers in cities across America.

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