Puma concolor - Mountain Lion, Puma, Cougar
Mountain lions are large, plain-colored cats characterized by dark brown hair on the muzzle, backs of the ears, and tip of the tail. The chin, upper lip, chest, and belly are creamy white. The most distinctive characteristic is the long tail, which is about two-thirds the length of the head and body. Male mountain lions range from 110 to 180 pounds and measure 6 to 8 feet in length. Female mountain lions are 30 to 40 percent smaller than males weighing from 80 to 130 pounds and measuring 5 to 7 feet in length (Hansen 1992). The short, muscular limbs keep them low to the ground with heights ranging from 2 to 2 ½ feet (Lewis and Craven 1987). Five toes are found on the rear feet and four on the front feet all having sharp, retractable claws. The yellow eyes are broad providing for excellent depth perception and the large pupils aid in night vision. Mountain lions have a dental formula of I 3/3 C 1/1 P 3/2 M 1/1 including large canines and well developed carnassials (Shivaraju 2002).
Historically populations were found throughout the Americas ranging throughout the entire United States and from British Columbia south to the tip of South America. The current ranges in North America are limited to the western United States (primarily west of the Rocky Mountains) and British Columbia (Shivaraju 2002, Hansen 1992). Revivals of some mountain lion populations are now being recognized in the northern Midwest (Clark 2002). The decrease in mountain lion populations throughout North America is primarily due to human influences, including hunting and destruction of habitat, along with changes in prey populations and vegetation (Shivaraju 2002).
Mountain lions are thought extirpated in the State of Wisconsin. The last known mountain lion was killed in 1908 (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 2003). Sightings have occurred annually but with little proof. It is believed that some mountain lions could travel into the northern parts of Wisconsin from Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but these states have very limited populations also. Some of the sightings could be linked to mountain lions that were once held captive and then released. There is no breeding population found in Wisconsin (Lewis and Craven 1987).
Due to a solitary lifestyle, mating behaviors in mountain lions are very distinct. Mountain lion populations are polygamous because of overlapping home ranges. Typically females begin to breed around age 3 and will mate with only one male per breeding cycle. Females are in heat for about 8 days during the estrous cycle. During this time, the pair copulates at a rate of 50 to 70 times per day for 7 to 8 days in order to induce ovulation and maximize the chance for fertilization (Hansen 1992).
Females give birth every 2 to 3 years. The gestation period lasts for about 90 to 96 days (Sandfort and Tully 1971). Females give birth to litters of 1 to 6 kittens, averaging around 3. The kittens weigh about 1 pound at birth and reach over 2 pounds within 10 to 20 days. After 10 days, the kittens open their eyes and ears, and begin to move about on their own (Hansen 1992, Sandfort and Tully 1971).
Female mountain lions are primarily responsible for caring for the young, while males are not involved. Kittens are weaned by the third month and are led on hunts as early as 8 weeks. The young quickly learn the home range and eventually will venture independently for days. Young mountain lions typically remain with the mother up to 20 months before dispersing to find their own home range (Hansen 1992).
Ecology and Behavior:
Mountain lions are very solitary mammals (Shivaraju 2002, Spreadbury et al. 1996, Hansen 1992). Populations of mountain lions are made up of resident males and females, dependent young, and transients. Male home range sizes range from 25 to 500 square miles, whereas females range from 8 to 400 square miles (Hansen 1992). The home ranges of males do not overlap with other males but will overlap with many female home ranges, enabling sexual interaction with many females. Mountain lions establish territorial boundaries by leaving scrapes. Many lions tend to avoid each other if made aware of each other’s presence, a display of mutual avoidance (Spreadbury et al. 1996, Hansen 1992). This behavior minimizes conflict and, by keeping the population evenly distributed, increases the chance of finding prey. Transients typically consist of lions that recently left the mother’s home range and are trying to locate a place to occupy. Transients continue to move until a vacancy is found in another home range, eventually settling and intermixing with the resident population, this provides genetic diversity. Females will remain reproductively inactive until a home range is established (Hansen 1992).
Most mountain lions in North America live in areas with little human disturbance, typically found in mountainous regions, rocky canyons, or valleys of rivers (Spreadbury et al.1996). Mountain lions can adapt to a variety of terrains and are most often found in areas of dense vegetation. The vegetation provides cover in order to stalk prey (Hansen 1992).
Mountain lions are carnivorous mammals. The changes in prey densities directly influence the location of home ranges. The primary type of prey is white-tailed deer in the east and mule deer in the west. Other ungulates are included in the diet including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and caribou (Spreadbury et al. 1996). Smaller animals may also be eaten including rabbits, squirrels, goats, coyotes, porcupines, and raccoons (Shivaraju 2002). On occasion mountain lions eat domesticated animals (cows, pigs, chickens), which causes livestock owners to view them as a threat.
Clark, David W., S.C. White, A.K. Bowers, L.D. Lucio, G.A. Heidt. 2002. A survey of recent accounts of the mountain lion in Arkansas. Southeastern Naturalist: Vol 1, No. 3, 269-278.
Hansen, Kevin. 1992. Cougar: The American Lion. Northland Publishing Company, Flastaff, Arizona.
Lewis, Timothy L., Craven, Scott R. 1987. Mountain lions in Wisconsin? Maybe. Wisconsin Natural Resources, January/February edition. 21-24 pp.
Sandfort, Wayne W., R.J. Tully. 1971. The status and management of the mountain lion and bobcat in Colorado. Proceedings of a Symposium on the Native Cats of North America. 73-85 pp.
Shivaraju, Anupama. 2002. Puma concolor. <http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/puma/p._concolor$narrative.html>.
Spreadbury, Brain R., K. Musil, J. Musil, C. Kaisner, J. Kovak. 1996. Cougar population characteristics in southeastern British Columbia. Journal of Wildlife Management. 60(4):962-969.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2003. Checklist of Wisconsin Vertebrates-Mammals. <http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/es/science/publications/VertChklist/Mammals.html>.
Reference written by Jill Schoenborn, Biol 378: Edited by Chris Yahnke.
Page last updated 4-29-04.