The mountain lion, also known as the cougar, puma, panther or catamount, is a large cat species native to the Americas. While there are still several thousand mountain lions in the wild, their population has significantly decreased from their historical population due to unsustainable hunting, habitat destruction and conflicts with livestock.
Description: Mountain lions are large, tan cats. Their bodies are mainly covered in tawny-beige fur, except for the whitish-gray belly and chest. Black markings decorate the tip of the tail, ears and around the snout.
Size: Mountain lions vary hugely in average body size depending on geographic location — their size is smallest closer to the equator and largest closer to the poles. Generally, though, males weigh between 115 – 220 pounds and females weigh between 64 and 141 pounds.
Diet: Mountain lions are stealth predators, hunting at night and often lying in wait for prey or silently stalking it before pouncing from behind and delivering a lethal bite to the spinal cord. Typically they prey on deer, but also feed on smaller animals, even insects, when necessary. Like all cats, mountion lions are strict carnivores and they only very rarely consume vegetation.
Typical Lifespan: In the wild, a mountain lion can live up to 10 years. In captivity, they can live up to 21 years.
Habitat: Mountain lions inhabit a wide range of ecosystems, making their home anywhere there is shelter and prey, including mountains, forests, deserts and wetlands. They are territorial and have naturally low population densities, which means the species requires large swaths of wilderness habitat to thrive
Range: The mountain lion’s range spreads all across the Americas, from the Canadian Yukon to The Strait of Magellan, the greatest of range any extant mammal in the Americas.
Communication: Unlike other large cats, they cannot roar. Instead they growl, shriek, hiss and purr, similar to house cats. Mountain lions are territorial and solitary. They use pheromones and physical signs (like claw markings or feces) to define their territory.
Mountain Lion Conservation
Due to conservation efforts, mountain lion populations in the western United States are stable, although far lower than they were historically..
Mountain lions are an 'umbrella species' for conservation because their conservation depends on the preservation of large amounts of habitat. A mountain lion usually requires about 13 times as much area as a black bear or 40 times as much area as a bobcat to thrive. By preserving enough wilderness to support a stable mountain lion population, countless other species of plants and animals that share mountain lion habitat benefit.
California Mountain Lions: In California, Proposition 117, the California Wildlife Protection Act, was approved in 1990. The act both prohibited sport hunting of the California Mountain Lion and set a requirement that California spend at least $30 million a year on wildlife habitat protection.
Eastern Cougar: This subspecies of mountain lion was declared officially extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011, although individuals from western populations have been confirmed to wander as far as the East Coast.
Florida Panthers: Florida panthers are a sub-species of mountain lion that are listed as critically endangered on the Endangered Species List. There are less than 160 Florida panthers left in the wild. Learn more about Florida Panthers >>
National Wildlife Magazine Articles:
Cat on a Collision Course
Where Would they Be Now?
The Health of North America's Big Cats (PDF)
Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge