Brief Summary

    Cougar: Brief Summary
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    "Mountain lion" redirects here. For other uses, see Cougar (disambiguation) and Mountain lion (disambiguation).

    Large cat of the family Felidae native to the Americas

    The cougar (Puma concolor), also commonly known as the puma, mountain lion, panther or catamount, is a large felid of the subfamily Felinae native to the Americas. Its range, from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America, is the widest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in most American habitat types. It is the biggest cat in North America, and the second-heaviest cat in the New World after the jaguar. Secretive and largely solitary by nature, the cougar is properly considered both nocturnal and crepuscular, although daytime sightings do occur. The cougar is more closely related to smaller felines, including the domestic cat (subfamily Felinae), than to any species of subfamily Pantherinae, of which only the jaguar is native to the Americas.

    The cougar is an ambush predator that pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources are ungulates, particularly deer. It also hunts species as small as insects and rodents. This cat prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but can also live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and survives at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey. While large, it is not always the apex predator in its range, yielding to the jaguar, gray wolf, American black bear, and grizzly bear. It is reclusive and mostly avoids people. Fatal attacks on humans are rare, but have recently been increasing in North America as more people enter cougar territories.

    Intensive hunting following European colonization of the Americas and the ongoing human development of cougar habitat has caused populations to drop in most parts of its historical range. In particular, the North American cougar was extirpated in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century, except for an isolated Florida panther subpopulation. Transient males have been verified in Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois (where a cougar was shot in the city limits of Chicago), and in at least one instance, observed as far east as coastal Connecticut. Reports of eastern cougars (P. c. cougar) still surface, although it was declared extirpated in 2011.

Comprehensive Description


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    Mountain lions have the widest distribution of any native mammal in the
    western hemisphere [12,56,34]. During presettlement times, mountain
    lions ranged from northern British Columbia to southern Chile and
    Argentina, and from coast to coast in North America [12]. Although
    still covering over 100 degrees latitude from the Straits of Magellan to
    the Canadian Yukon Territory and now also Alaska, there has been an
    overall reduction in mountain lion distribution. In North America
    substantial mountain lion populations occur only in the western United
    States and Canada, and these ranges have been reduced from presettlement
    times [56]. Isolated populations and incidental sightings have been
    reported in the central and eastern United States [10,12]. At present
    the only known mountain lion population east of Texas exists in southern
    Florida, although a small population may exist in western Arkansas and
    eastern Oklahoma [30]. The specific distributions of the North American
    subspecies are listed below:

    P. c. azteca - Occurs in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico [19].

    Yuma puma - Yuma pumas live along the lower Colorado River in
    California, Arizona, and Mexico [20].

    P. c. californica - Occurs in southern Oregon, California, and Nevada

    Florida panther - Historically Florida panthers ranged from the lower
    Mississippi River valley east through the southeastern states to the
    Florida Everglades. At present the Florida panther is found only south
    of Lake Okeechobee, Florida, in four areas: the Fakahatchee Strand; Big
    Cypress National Preserve; the southern portion of the Everglades
    Conservation Area; and Everglades National Park, from the
    Hole-in-the-Donut area north [16,34,53]. In addition to the above
    areas, a number of recent, verified reports or specimens have come from
    Highlands, Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, Osceola, Volusia, and St. Johns
    counties. However, no reproduction has been recorded in these areas
    [34]. Only 30 to 50 Florida panthers are believed to exist in the wild
    [34,53]. The population of Florida panthers that existed in Everglades
    National Park in the mid-1980's is now functionally extinct, with only
    one male remaining [3].

    Eastern cougar - Historically eastern cougars ranged throughout the
    eastern United States from Michigan and Indiana east to the Atlantic
    coast, and from southern Canada south to Tennessee and South Carolina.
    Today eastern cougars may be extinct. No breeding populations have been
    positively identified within the historic range since the 1920's.
    Unconfirmed sightings continue to be reported from the mountains of
    North Carolina and the Virginias. Tracks and scat were observed in the
    Jefferson-George Washington-Monongahela National Forest as recently as
    1981, but no positive confirmation was made [53].

    P. c. missoulensis and P. c. hippolestes - Historically, P. c.
    missoulensis ranged from British Columbia east to Manitoba, and south to
    eastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, northern Wyoming, and northern North
    Dakota. P. c. hippolestes ranged from southern Idaho and northern Utah
    east to eastern North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and western Kansas
    [19]. Hansen [20] stated that both subspecies are now restricted to the
    western portion of their historic ranges. However, sightings still
    occur in Kansas, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the Nebraska
    panhandle [20].

    P. c. kaibabensis - Occurs from southern Oregon south through Nevada,
    western Utah, and northern Arizona [19].

    P. c. olympus - Occurs in the Olympic Mountains of Washington [12].

    P. c. oregonensis - Occurs in southwestern British Columbia, western
    Washington, and Oregon [19].

    Wisconsin puma - The current distribution of this subspecies was not
    described in the available literature.

    Texas panther - This subspecies formerly occupied most of Texas and
    Oklahoma, but is now restricted to eastern New Mexico and western Texas

    P. c. vancouverensis - Occurs on Vancouver Island, British Columbia
    Occurrence in North America
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    Regional Distribution in the Western United States
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    This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

    1 Northern Pacific Border
    2 Cascade Mountains
    3 Southern Pacific Border
    4 Sierra Mountains
    5 Columbia Plateau
    6 Upper Basin and Range
    7 Lower Basin and Range
    8 Northern Rocky Mountains
    9 Middle Rocky Mountains
    10 Wyoming Basin
    11 Southern Rocky Mountains
    12 Colorado Plateau
    13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
    14 Great Plains
    15 Black Hills Uplift
    16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
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    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.

    Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )


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    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.

    Range mass: 29 to 120 kg.

    Range length: 860 to 1540 mm.

    Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

    Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

    Average basal metabolic rate: 49.326 W.


    Associated Plant Communities
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    Mountain lions occupy a wide variety of plant communities. They are
    found in montane coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps,
    grasslands, dry brushlands, and any other area with adequate cover and
    prey [16,20,31,46,56]. Typical mountain lion habitat in western North
    America is open woodland such as oak (Quercus spp.) scrub, pinyon (Pinus
    spp.), juniper (Juniperus spp.), curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus
    ledifolius), snowbrush ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus), and manzanita
    (Arctostaphylos spp.) communities [56].

    Logan and Irwin [31] investigated habitat use by mountain lions in the
    Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming, and found that mixed conifer and curlleaf
    mountain-mahogany communities were preferred. In southern Utah mountain
    lion habitat consists of desert shrub and sagebrush (Artemisia
    spp.)-grassland communities at lower elevations (4,445 to 5,940 feet
    [1,330-1,780 m]). Mountain lions also occupy pinyon-juniper woodlands,
    Gambel oak (Q. gambelii) scrub, open ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)
    forests which dominate at mid-elevations (5,940 to 8,910 feet
    [1,780-2,670 m]) [20,46], and higher elevation stands of quaking aspen
    (Populus tremuloides), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), or white
    fir (Abies concolor) interspersed with subalpine meadows. Mountain
    lions also inhabit deep, rocky, vertical-walled river canyons containing
    riparian vegetation including Fremont cottonwood (P. fremontii) and
    willows (Salix spp.) [46].

    In the Idaho Primitive Area, mountain lion habitat consists of Engelmann
    spruce-subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
    (Pseudotsuga menziesii) associations at higher elevations. At lower
    elevations mountain lions inhabit curlleaf mountain-mahogany, antelope
    bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), and big sagebrush (A.
    tridentata)-bunchgrass associations [46].

    In California mountain lions occur primarily between 1,980 and 5,940
    feet (590-1,780 m) in mixed conifer and brush habitats. Mountain lions
    are rare at higher elevations in pure stands of conifers and at lower
    elevations in pure stands of chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) [46]. In
    New Mexico mountain lions commonly occur in pinyon-juniper plant
    communities [25].

    Florida panthers inhabit most types of vegetation in southern Florida
    including tropical hammocks, pine flatwoods, cabbage palmetto (Sabal
    palmetto), mixed swamps, baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) swamps, live
    oak (Q. virginiana) hammocks, sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) marshes, and
    Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolia) thickets [4,14,28,34].
    Belden and others [4] found that Florida panthers used mixed swamp
    forests and hammock forests more than expected based on the availability
    of these habitats within their home range. Day-use sites typically are
    dense patches of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) surrounded by swamp, pine
    flatwoods, or hammocks. Open agricultural lands are common around most
    publicly owned land in southern Florida and receive some use by Florida
    panthers if cover nearby is adequate [14,34].
    Cover Requirements
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    Stalking cover - The best stalking cover for mountain lions is thick
    enough for mountain lions to remain hidden, and sparse enough for them
    to see their prey [20]. Mountain lions commonly use terrain such as
    steep canyons, rock outcroppings, and boulders, or vegetation such as
    dense brush and thickets to remain hidden while stalking [3,20].

    Protective cover - Dense vegetation or piles of boulders are often
    selected as den sites to help protect kittens from harsh weather and
    predators [20,32].
    Habitat: Cover Types
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    This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

    67 Mohrs (shin) oak
    201 White spruce
    202 White spruce-paper birch
    203 Balsam poplar
    204 Black spruce
    205 Mountain hemlock
    206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
    207 Red fir
    208 Whitebark pine
    209 Bristlecone pine
    210 Interior Douglas-fir
    211 White fir
    212 Western larch
    213 Grand fir
    215 Western white pine
    216 Blue spruce
    217 Aspen
    218 Lodgepole pine
    219 Limber pine
    220 Rocky Mountain juniper
    221 Red alder
    222 Black cottonwood-willow
    223 Sitka spruce
    224 Western hemlock
    225 Western hemlock-Sitka spruce
    226 Coastal true fir-hemlock
    227 Western redcedar-western hemlock
    228 Western redcedar
    229 Pacific Douglas-fir
    230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
    231 Port-Orford-cedar
    233 Oregon white oak
    234 Douglas-fir-tanoak-Pacific madrone
    235 Cottonwood-willow
    236 Bur oak
    237 Interior ponderosa pine
    238 Western juniper
    239 Pinyon-juniper
    240 Arizona cypress
    241 Western live oak
    243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
    244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
    245 Pacific ponderosa pine
    246 California black oak
    247 Jeffrey pine
    248 Knobcone pine
    249 Canyon live oak
    250 Blue oak-foothills pine
    251 White spruce-aspen
    252 Paper birch
    253 Black spruce-white spruce
    254 Black spruce-paper birch
    255 California coast live oak
    256 California mixed subalpine
    Habitat: Ecosystem
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    This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

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    FRES20 Douglas-fir
    FRES21 Ponderosa pine
    FRES22 Western white pine
    FRES23 Fir-spruce
    FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
    FRES25 Larch
    FRES26 Lodgepole pine
    FRES27 Redwood
    FRES28 Western hardwoods
    FRES29 Sagebrush
    FRES30 Desert shrub
    FRES31 Shinnery
    FRES32 Texas savanna
    FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
    FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
    FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
    FRES37 Mountain meadows
    FRES41 Wet grasslands
    FRES44 Alpine
    Habitat: Plant Associations
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    This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

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    K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir forest
    K003 Silver fir-Douglas-fir forest
    K004 Fir-hemlock forest
    K005 Mixed conifer forest
    K006 Redwood forest
    K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest
    K009 Pine-cypress forest
    K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
    K011 Western ponderosa forest
    K012 Douglas-fir forest
    K013 Cedar-hemlock-pine forest
    K014 Grand fir-Douglas-fir forest
    K015 Western spruce-fir forest
    K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
    K017 Black Hills pine forest
    K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
    K019 Arizona pine forest
    K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
    K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
    K022 Great Basin pine forest
    K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
    K024 Juniper steppe woodland
    K025 Alder-ash forest
    K026 Oregon oakwoods
    K028 Mosaic of K002 and K026
    K027 Mesquite bosque
    K029 California mixed evergreen forest
    K030 California oakwoods
    K031 Oak-juniper woodlands
    K032 Transition between K031 and K037
    K033 Chaparral
    K034 Montane chaparral
    K035 Coastal sagebrush
    K036 Mosaic of K030 and K035
    K038 Great Basin sagebrush
    K039 Blackbrush
    K040 Saltbush-greasewood
    K041 Creosotebush
    K042 Creosotebush-bursage
    K043 Paloverde-cactus shrub
    K044 Creosotebush-tarbush
    K049 Tule marshes
    K052 Alpine meadows and barren
    K055 Sagebrush steppe
    K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
    K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe
    K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna
    K079 Palmetto prairie
    K081 Oak savanna
    K092 Everglades
    K071 Shinnery
    Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types
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    This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):

    More info for the terms: association, forb, grassland, marsh, shrub, shrubland, woodland

    104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
    105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
    107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
    108 Alpine Idaho fescue
    109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
    110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
    201 Blue oak woodland
    202 Coast live oak woodland
    203 Riparian woodland
    204 North coastal shrub
    205 Coastal sage shrub
    206 Chamise chaparral
    207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
    208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
    209 Montane shrubland
    210 Bitterbrush
    212 Blackbush
    213 Alpine grassland
    216 Montane meadows
    217 Wetlands
    314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
    315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
    316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
    317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
    318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
    319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue
    320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
    321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
    322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
    401 Basin big sagebrush
    402 Mountain big sagebrush
    403 Wyoming big sagebrush
    404 Threetip sagebrush
    405 Black sagebrush
    406 Low sagebrush
    407 Stiff sagebrush
    408 Other sagebrush types
    409 Tall forb
    411 Aspen woodland
    413 Gambel oak
    415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
    416 True mountain-mahogany
    417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
    418 Bigtooth maple
    419 Bittercherry
    420 Snowbrush
    421 Chokecherry-serviceberry-rose
    422 Riparian
    502 Grama-galleta
    203 Riparian woodland
    503 Arizona chaparral
    504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
    505 Grama-tobosa shrub
    509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
    612 Sagebrush-grass
    730 Sand shinnery oak
    733 Juniper-oak
    735 Sideoats grama-sumac-juniper
    818 Florida salt marsh
    819 Freshwater marsh and ponds
    822 Slough
    Preferred Habitat
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    Mountain lion habitat is essentially the same as that of their primary
    prey. Within this habitat, mountain lions tend to prefer rocky cliffs,
    ledges, vegetated ridgetops, or other areas that provide cover for
    undetected surveillance of prey [46,56]. Stream courses and ridgetops
    are frequently used as travel corridors and hunting routes. Riparian
    vegetation along streams provides cover for mountain lions traveling in
    open areas [46].

    Florida panthers generally inhabit ecotones and subtropical, dense
    forests in low-lying swampy areas composed mainly of trees, shrubs, and
    vines. They also occur in pine forests [20,53]. In Everglades National
    Park, edge habitat provides good forage and cover for white-tailed deer
    (Odocoileus virginianus), which in turn may attract Florida panthers

    In the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho, mountain lions
    preferred steep, rocky areas covered with "dense" Douglas-fir and
    ponderosa pine mixed with sagebrush and grassland. Mountain lions
    avoided crossing large open areas with sparse cover, preferring to
    travel around perimeters [20,43]. In the Bighorn Mountains of northern
    Wyoming, mountain lions frequented canyons with steep, rugged slopes (>
    45 deg). Areas with gentle slopes (< 20 deg) were generally avoided

    Den sites - In rough terrain mountain lion dens are usually located in a
    shallow nook on the face of a cliff or rock outcrop. In less
    mountainous areas dens are located in dense thickets or under fallen
    logs. Little bedding is used in dens. Females may use the same den for
    several years [56]. A radio-collared female Florida panther chose the
    same large sawpalmetto thicket surrounded by hammock and freshwater
    marsh for her den in 1986 and 1988 [34].

    Home range - The home range consists of a first-order home area, used
    primarily for resting, and a much larger area used for hunting [56].
    Home ranges are maintained by resident mountain lions but not transient
    mountain lions [56]. Mountain lions are capable of covering large
    distances in short periods of time [30].

    Home range size varies by sex and age of the mountain lion, season, and
    spatial distribution and density of prey [20,30,43,56]. Home ranges as
    large as 196 square miles (510 sq. km) and as small as 25 square miles
    (65 sq. km) have been reported. Resident male mountain lion home ranges
    are typically larger than those of females and overlap a number of
    female home ranges, but only occasionally overlap those of other
    resident males. Mean home range for resident male Florida panthers is
    between 168 and 196 square miles (437-510 sq. km); for resident females
    it is between 68 and 74 square miles (177-192 sq. km) [34]. Home ranges
    of resident females commonly overlap, but females avoid each other in
    the areas of overlap [20,30,56]. Female mountain lions probably select
    areas with relatively high prey densities. Male home ranges may reflect
    the density and distribution of females [34].

    Mountain lions move from summer range to winter range in areas where
    their main prey congregates during the winter [10,30,37]. The smallest
    documented home ranges appear to occur in areas where deer (Odocoileus
    spp.) do not exhibit seasonal movements [30]. Seasonal and sex
    differences in home range size were reported by Seidensticker and others
    [43] on the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
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    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.

    Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

    Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

    Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

Trophic Strategy

    Food Habits
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    In North America mountain lions feed primarily on large ungulate
    species. Small mammals are also eaten depending on local abundance
    [10,20,34,56]. Occasionally, grass and carrion are eaten [1]. The main
    prey seems to be a function of abundance [10,12]. Composition of the
    diet may shift seasonally, reflecting the adundance and availability of
    small prey and the dispersion of large prey such as deer and elk (Cervus
    elaphus) [30].

    Deer dominate the diet of mountain lions in most areas [30]. In the
    western United States, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are the major
    prey species. Other prey species include white-tailed deer, elk, moose
    (Alces alces), bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), porcupines (Erthizon
    dorsatum), American beavers (Castor canadensis), snowshoe hares (Lepus
    californicus), ground squirrels (Citellus spp.), marmots (Marmota spp.),
    smaller rodents (Rodentia), other carnivores, and domestic livestock
    [9,30]. Porcupines are a preferred food item wherever they occur in
    mountain lion range [56]. In most temperate regions, small mammals
    represent a minor part of the diet and probably are taken

    In British Columbia moose comprised a large portion of diet of mountain
    lions, as did snowshoe hares during a peak snowshoe hare population
    [56]. In the Cascade Range of Oregon, black-tailed deer (Odocoileus
    hemionus columbianus) were the most important prey item in the mountain
    lion diet. Domestic sheep (Ovis aries), porcupines, and a variety of
    small mammals were also recorded [48]. In the southwestern United
    States, collared peccary (Pecari angulatus) can be an important part of
    the mountain lion diet [56].

    In Florida, Florida panthers commonly prey on feral pigs (Sus scrofa),
    raccoons (Procyon lotor), and nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus
    novemcinctus) in addition to white-tailed deer [16,32,34]. In
    southwestern Florida from 1977 through 1989, 270 scat samples indicated
    that feral pigs were the most common prey species followed by
    white-tailed deer, raccoons, and armadillos [32]. The most important
    food items, based on contents of six Florida panther stomachs, were
    armadillos and white-tailed deer. All of the stomachs also contained 3
    to 8 grams of grass. Another study in southern Florida found
    white-tailed deer in 46 percent of Florida panther scat, rabbits
    (Sylvilagus spp.) in 31 percent, cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) in 20
    percent, feral pigs in 15 percent, raccoons in 11 percent, armadillos in
    7 percent, and birds (Aves) in 3 percent [5].
    Trophic Strategy
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    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.

    Animal Foods: birds; mammals; fish; mollusks

    Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

    Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)


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    Biologists working near the North Fork of the Flathead River, Montana,
    have reported gray wolves (Canis lupus) killing mountain lions as well
    as driving them from prey [37]. Adult male mountain lions are known to
    kill mountain lion kittens and sometimes eat them [12,30,56]. Adult
    female mountain lions are occasionally killed by other mountain lions
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    Mountain lions are important as top predators in the ecosystems in which they live. They are instrumental in controlling populations of large ungulates.

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    Mountain lions are top predators. They may be preyed on by other mountain lions, wolves, or bear when they are young or ill.

    Known Predators:

    • mountain lions (Puma concolor)
    • gray wolves (Canis lupus)
    • bears (Ursidae)

General Ecology

    Habitat-related Fire Effects
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    More info for the terms: cover, forest

    Mountain lion habitat can be enhanced or expanded by fires that improve
    habitat for prey species [42,54]. Preferred forage for deer is
    generally more productive and easily accessible following fire.
    Frequent fire over large areas maintains many stands in a successional
    stage favorable to deer. Deer populations commonly increase
    dramatically following forest fire, provided 40 percent or more escape
    cover remains after the burn [54]. Mountain lion numbers increased
    after fire in a western redcedar (Thuja plicata)-western hemlock (Tsuga
    heteropylla) forest in British Columbia. This increase may have been
    related to an increase in mule deer populations. Mountain lions became
    so common that one hunter killed 18 during one season where a few years
    previous it was unusual to even see mountain lion tracks [13]. In
    California chaparral communities, mountain lions are attracted to the
    edges of recent burns where deer tend to congregate [29].

    During the late 1940's and early 1950's, logging and wildfires in the
    pines and cypress of Florida provided ideal habitat for white-tailed
    deer, and their numbers increased until the forest canopy began closing
    over in the mid-1960's. Florida panther populations also increased
    during this period [20].

    Mountain lions may change their home range in response to fire. The
    activities of eight radio-tagged mountain lions were monitored during
    and after the 1988 fire season in Yellowstone National Park. After the
    fire season, two adult mountain lions and two kittens showed pronounced
    changes in their home ranges. A comparison of home ranges of three
    adult mountain lions from winter 1987 through 1989 showed that each
    individual is presently using a different area. The changes may have
    been due to fire; however, differences in snow accumulations,
    temperature, drought, and distribution of prey animals could also
    account for the new patterns. Eleven percent of the radio-locations of
    the eight radio-tagged mountion lions have occurred in burned habitat.
    Eleven percent of the mountain lion prey has been captured in burned
    areas [38].

    For more information concerning fire effects on species of mountain lion
    prey (i.e., mule deer, elk, white-tailed deer, and moose) refer to
    write-ups on these species in the Fire Effects Information System.
    Timing of Major Life History Events
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    More info for the terms: litter, polygamous

    Breeding season - Mountain lions are polygamous. They are capable of
    breeding throughout the year, and successful litters can be produced any
    month of the year [56]. However, there is generally a peak in litter
    production during the summer [1,56]. The estrous cycle lasts
    approximately 23 days, with estrus usually lasting 8 days. However,
    periods of estrus lasting up to 11 days have been reported [56].
    Mountain lions are generally solitary except during the breeding season
    and when the female is raising young [10].

    The breeding season of Florida panthers starts in October and continues
    through April, with the majority of conceptions occurring from November
    to March. Over half of the births occurring during the period form
    April through August [3].

    Age at sexual maturity - Mountain lions first breed when they are 2 to 3
    years old [10,56,51]. Females born during the summer generally first
    breed during the winter following their second birthday [20,56].
    Females usually do not breed until they have established a home range
    [20]. The earliest published instance of first reproduction in the
    Florida panther was an 18- to 19-month-old female that raised four
    kittens in her mother's home range. Male Florida panthers appear to
    reach sexual maturity after 3 years of age [3].

    Gestation and litter size - Following a gestation period of 82 to 98
    days (90-98 days for Florida panthers), a litter of one to six young is
    produced, with a mean of 2.67 [1,3,10,20,30]. Florida panther litter
    sizes range from one to four kittens [3]. Female mountain lions may
    produce only one kitten in their first litter [30]. A litter may be
    produced every year under "optimal conditions" [56], but usually one
    litter is produced every other year or at 3-year intervals [3,56]. If
    the female loses her kittens to predators or other circumstances, she
    may breed again soon after the loss [20].

    Growth of young - Kittens begin nursing within minutes after birth and
    gain weight rapidly. Males usually grow faster than females. At 2
    weeks of age, eyes and ears are open, and kittens are able to walk. In
    10 to 20 days kittens may weigh over 2 pounds. The female leads kittens
    to kills when they are 7 to 8 weeks old [20]. The kittens are weaned
    when they are 2 to 3 months old. Kittens can survive on their own at 6
    months of age, but they typically remain with their mother until they
    are 1 to 2 years old [1,20,30,56]. Siblings sometimes disperse as a
    group and may remain together for 3 months or longer [37].

    Longevity - The maximum longevity of wild mountain lions is unknown.
    Once established on home ranges, mountain lions may live 12 to 13 years
    [12,37]. There is evidence of a 15- to 18-year life span in the wild
    for Florida panthers, but 8 to 12 years is considered old [3]. Three
    captive male mountain lions lived at least 12, 15, and 18 years, and one
    female lived at least 10 years. A 9-year average and a 20-year maximum
    lifespan have been reported for captive mountain lions [1,12].


    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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.

    Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

    Other Communication Modes: scent marks

    Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Life Expectancy

    Life Expectancy
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    Mountain lions may live up to 18 to 20 years in the wild. They can live slightly longer in captivity.

    Typical lifespan
    Status: wild:
    18 to 20 years.

    Average lifespan
    Status: captivity:
    20.0 years.


    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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

    Mating System: polygynous

    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.

    Breeding interval: Individual female mountain lions usually give birth every two years.

    Breeding season: Mating throughout the year, in northern parts of their range mating is more concentrated from December to March.

    Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.

    Average number of offspring: 2.9.

    Range gestation period: 84 to 106 days.

    Average gestation period: 92.3 days.

    Range weaning age: 28 (low) days.

    Average weaning age: 40 days.

    Range time to independence: 12 (high) months.

    Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2.5 years.

    Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.

    Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous

    Average birth mass: 400 g.

    Average number of offspring: 2.5.

    Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male:
    912 days.

    Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female:
    912 days.

    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.

    Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning

Conservation Status

    Conservation Status
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    Information on state-level status of animals in the United States is
    available at NatureServe.
    U.S. Federal Legal Status
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    Eastern pumas, Costa Rican pumas, and Florida panthers are listed as
    Endangered. In Florida, mountain lion subspecies other than the Florida
    panther are listed as Threatened due to Similarity of Appearance [61].
    Conservation Status
    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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.

    US Federal List: endangered

    CITES: appendix i; appendix ii

    IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern


    Management Considerations
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    More info for the terms: cover, forest, presence, restoration

    Hunting - One of the largest causes of mountain lion mortality is
    hunting [56]. Currently almost all states and provinces that support
    viable mountain lion populations provide sport hunting opportunities.
    Season lengths range from 1 month to year-round and often vary within a
    jurisdiction [30]. Most states allow hunters to kill only one mountain
    lion per season, with the exception of Texas, which places no limit on
    the number of mountain lions a hunter can take [20]. In California
    mountain lion hunting has been banned since 1990 [37].

    Accidents - Road-killed mountain lions comprise the largest number of
    accidental deaths [12,20,56]. Collisions with motor vehicles are the
    primary cause of death of Florida panthers. From 1979 to 1991, almost
    50 percent of the documented mortalities of Florida panthers were
    road-kills [20]. Drownings in drainage canals in California have been
    reported [12,56].

    Habitat loss - Loss of habitat is probably the greatest threat to
    mountain lion populations. Not only are large tracts of habitat
    necessary to maintain individual populations of mountain lions, but
    corridors that connect these tracts are required for dispersal of
    mountain lions between populations. Any permanent loss of habitat,
    especially deer and elk winter range in the West and white-tailed deer
    and feral pig habitat in Florida, may cause a reduction in the mountain
    lion population [20,34,56]. Habitat acquisition, enhancement,
    restoration, and protection are fundamental to survival of all mountain
    lion subspecies [20]. Specific recommendations for managing mountain
    lion habitat in North America have been described by Hansen [20].

    The long-term survival of mountain lions depends in part on the
    availability of large tracts of roadless habitats [21]. Roads increase
    human access to mountain lion habitat, thus increasing mountain lion
    vulnerability to hunters. Mountain lions tend to avoid roaded areas.
    In Arizona mountain lions crossed hard-surfaced roads and maintained
    dirt roads less frequently than smaller dirt roads, suggesting that they
    may select against areas with maintained roads [50].

    Areas that are disturbed by habitat alteration associated with human
    activities or by permanent human presence appear to be less acceptable
    to mountain lions than undisturbed areas. Mountain lion reactions to
    logging and other human activities were studied in northern Arizona from
    1976 to 1980 and in south-central Utah from 1979 to 1982. Resident
    males on both study areas generally inhabited areas that were relatively
    free of human disturbance. They were rarely found in or near (within 1
    km) sites that had been logged within the past 6 years [50].
    Development related to oil exploration has been extensive in occupied
    Florida panther habitat. The construction of roads, pads, and
    associated petroleum production activities has changed some areas, but
    the effects on Florida panthers are difficult to measure [34].

    Florida panthers are found only in one small part of its original
    range. Its decline has resulted primarily from habitat lost to
    expanding urbanization and agriculture. Continued habitat loss and
    fragmentation may cause extinction of this subspecies. However, where
    pasture or vegetable crops exist in a mosaic of forest cover, Florida
    panthers may persist. Interspersion of forested and early successional
    habitats seems to benefit Florida panther prey [34].

    Intensive efforts to protect Florida panther habitat on private lands
    are essential for its survival. About half of the presently known
    Florida panther range in southern Florida occurs on private lands where
    agricultural and urban development are increasing rapidly [33]. Acreage
    devoted to citrus production in prime Florida panther habitat has
    increased by approximately 400 percent in Collier and Hendry counties
    during the last 20 years. The human population in Collier County was
    the fastest growing in the nation in 1992 [34].

    Another threat to the survival of Florida panthers is low genetic
    diversity which has resulted in reproductive disorders within the
    population. Abnormal sperm comprised over 94 percent of the total sperm
    count in the semen analysis of six Florida panthers [22]. Genetic
    studies are continuing to address specific questions regarding the
    long-term reproductive viabiltiy of remaining populations and the
    feasibility for enhancement of their survivability through selective
    introduciton of genetic material from Texas panthers [6].

    A progam to reintroduce Florida panthers into "suitable" habitat in
    Florida is underway. A captive male Florida panther and three female
    Texas panthers are being breed in initial breeding trials. Any
    offspring produced between these two subspecies will be sterilized and
    released into suitable unoccupied habitat in Florida as "surrogates" to
    determine the survivability of captive-bred mountain lions [6,22].
    After a 1-year evaluation of the surrogate groups' response to their
    habitat as well as the public's response to their presence, these
    mountain lions will be removed from the wild. Pure Florida panthers
    will then be released into these areas if, based upon the results of the
    surrogates study, it appears feasible [22].

    Depredations by mountain lions - Mountain lions sometimes kill livestock
    and are hunted to prevent further depredations [30,56]. Cattle losses
    are most common in southwestern states. Sheep losses may occur in any
    area occupied by mountain lions [30]. Evidence suggests that predation
    on livestock is opportunistic rather than habitual. None of the
    mountain lions captured and released following depredations in
    California were involved in further incidents of depredation [56].
    Use of Fire in Population Management
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    More info for the terms: fire regime, fuel, prescribed fire

    Prescribed burning programs designed to improve habitat for large
    ungulates such as deer and elk also benefit mountain lions. Prescribed
    fires to improve winter range for mule and white-tailed deer have been
    conducted in the Southern East Kootenay Strategic Plan Area, British
    Columbia, in recent years [47].

    Prescribed fire is currently being used in Florida panther habitat for
    fuel reductions to prevent catastrophic wildfires. To provide maximum
    benefits for deer and other important Florida panther prey species,
    prescribed fires should be conducted on a 2- to 5-year rotation,
    depending upon fuel type and site conditions. Burn areas should be less
    than 6,177 acres (2,500 ha); annual partial fires or fires every 2 to 5
    years should be used when possible to increase habitat heterogeneity

    Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
    species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
    "Find FIRE REGIMES".


    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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.

    Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings)

    provided by Animal Diversity Web

    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.

    Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; research and education; controls pest population



    Common Names
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    mountain lion
    Yuma puma
    Florida panther
    eastern cougar
    Wisconsin puma
    Texas panther
    provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
    The currently accepted scientific name for the mountain lion is Puma
    concolor Linnaeus [63]. It is in the family Felidae and subfamily Felinae.
    Thirty subspecies are generally recognized worldwide. Thirteen of these
    occur in North America north of Mexico [12,19]:

    Puma concolor azteca Merriam
    Puma concolor browni Merriam (Yuma puma)
    Puma concolor californica May
    Puma concolor costaricensis (Costa Rican puma)
    Puma concolor coryi Bangs (Florida panther)
    Puma concolor couguar Kerr (eastern cougar)
    Puma concolor hippolestes Merriam
    Puma concolor kaibabensis Nelson and Goldman
    Puma concolor missoulensis Goldman
    Puma concolor olympus Merriam
    Puma concolor oregonensis (Rafinesque)
    Puma concolor shorgeri Jackson (Wisconsin puma)
    Puma concolor stanleyana Goldman (Texas panther)
    Puma concolor vancouverensis Nelson and Goldman