Mountain lions, cougars, and panthers are actually all the same animal! They are all under the scientific name Puma concolor. They are powerfully built, agile predators. Puma concolor are the second largest wild cat in North America with the largest being the jaguar. These are such amazing animals. They hold several Guinness World Records!
Different regions use different names for this cat. I live in Arizona and we call them mountain lions here, so I will use this name throughout this article, but, of course, the information is the same for all Puma concolor!
Scientific name (genus and species)
Puma concolor has many common names, some of which are mountain lion, cougar, panther, puma, and catamount. There are also many more names for this cat and it holds the Guinness World Record for the mammal with the most names. In the English language alone there are over 40 different names!
Mountain lions have a huge range. They hold the Guinness World Record for the greatest north-south range for a big cat. They can be found as far north as the Yukon in Canada and as far south as the most southern tip of South America. Mountain lions are able to adapt to almost any habitat, but they prefer areas with dense vegetation. They used to be found all over the United States, but have pretty much been eliminated from the eastern states and are now mainly found in the western states with a small population in Florida known as the Florida panther which are critically endangered.
There are estimated to be 30,000 in the Western United States. There is a subspecies known as the Florida Panther that is critically endangered with approximately 50-100 of them left.
In the wild, they may live 18-20 years and maybe slightly longer in captivity.
Adult size and weight
Males are larger than females. Males weigh between 36 and 120 kg (79-265 lbs) and females 29-64 kg (64-141 lbs). Head to body length can be 105-196 cm (41-77 inches or 3.4-6.4 feet) plus a tail length of 67-78 cm (26-31 inches or 2.1-2.5 feet). The tail is about one-third of their total length. They stand 60-90 cm (24-35 inches or 2-2.9 feet) tall at the shoulders. They tend to be smaller in size closer to the equator and larger farther north and south of the equator.
Mountain lions are mostly nocturnal (active at night) and crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn). They roam their territory which for females is an average of 140 square kilometers (54 square miles) and males average 280 square kilometers (108 square miles).
Mountain lions are carnivores. Their main prey are large animals like deer, moose, elk, and caribou. They also hunt smaller animals like mice, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, skunk, raccoons, rabbits, coyote, bobcats, other mountain lions, birds, and fish. Other prey are domestic animals such as chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, and calves. They eat 8-10 pounds of meat a day.
They will cache their larger prey by hiding it under leaves and other debris and then will come back several nights to eat it.
They are solitary and territorial. After they reach maturity and leave their mother, they avoid other mountain lions except when looking for a mate. They will mark their territory with scrape marks, urine, and feces.
Males reach sexual maturity around 3 years of age and females 2-½ years.
They can mate all throughout the year, but mostly from December to March.
Females are pregnant for 82-96 days (around 3 months) and they usually give birth every other year.
They can have a litter of 1-6 kittens, but the average is 2-4.
Kittens to maturity
Kittens are born blind and spotted. They are born with blue eyes that turn grayish brown to golden yellow by 16 months old. Kittens nurse for 3 months. The mother raises them alone and teaches them to hunt around 2 months of age. They usually lose their spots around 9 months of age and leave their mother around 1-½ years old to establish their own territory.
Do they attack or threaten humans?
It is pretty rare that they attack humans as mountain lions are nocturnal, secretive, and generally avoid humans, but it does happen occasionally if a person is out alone during the night or at dusk or dawn. Between 1890 and 2011, only 20 people are known to have been killed from attacks.
Threats to Mountain Lions
Mountain lions are a top predator, but young or sick may be attacked by wolves, bears, or even other mountain lions. People hunt them for sport or to protect their livestock. Other threats are habitat loss and poaching.
Frequently asked questions
Do mountain lions purr?
Yes! They are the largest cats that can purr.
Where do mountain lions sleep?
They prefer to sleep under low-lying branches at the base of a tree or up on a difficult to access cliff where other predators cannot easily reach them.
Will mountain lions eat dogs and domestic cats?
Yes, they will. Domestic pets such as dogs and cats are easier to catch than their wild prey such as deer. Keep your pets safe by not letting them roam outside unsupervised if you live in an area where mountain lions may be.
Will mountain lions attack horses?
It is not common, but it has happened. If you are in mountain lion country with your horse, it wouldn’t hurt to take precautions.
Will mountain lions kill coyotes?
What do mountain lions sound like?
Can mountain lions be black?
There has been no real evidence they exist. When people talk about “black panthers,” they are actually melanistic jaguars or leopards.
Can mountain lions swim?
They are actually good swimmers, but they don’t seem to like getting wet if they don’t have to.
Can mountain lions climb trees?
Yes, they are excellent climbers!
Can mountain lions meow?
Yes, they are the largest species of cat that can meow.
How do mountain lions hibernate?
They do not hibernate.
Are mountain lions really lions?
No. They are actually more related to a domestic house cat than to an African lion. Early explorers thought they looked like female African lions but found them in the mountains, so they got the name mountain lion.
Are mountain lions and cougars the same animal?
Yes! They are both Puma concolor.