Mountain Lions

Mountain lions are the second largest wildcat in North America, just behind the Jaguar.   The adult’s fur is golden in color, but can also be gray, dark brown or reddish brown. Kittens are born with blue eyes, dark brown spots and dark-ringed tails. Those markings begin to fade at three months of age and disappear entirely after one year.  Mountain lions have large paws and proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family.  A mountain lion’s top running speed ranges between 40 and 50 mph. However, it is best adapted for short, powerful sprints, not long chases. The mountain lion is extraordinarily agile and has excellent jumping power; it may leap from the ground up to 15 feet high onto a tree branch, or jump as far as 40 feet in distance. It is very adept at climbing, and while not associated with water, it can swim well. Sight is its most acute sense and has excellent hearing, but it is thought to have a poor sense of smell. Vocalizations by mountain lions include growls, hisses, and bird-like whistles. They purr like domestic cats.

Height:  2-3 feet (at the shoulder)
Length:  Males average 7.9 feet long from nose to tail tip, females average 6.7 feet
Mass:  Males weigh 120-220 lbs (adult), females weigh 64-140 lbs (adult)
Life Span:  8-13 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in captivity

Mountain lions are “obligate carnivores,” they only eat meat. Their diet consists of deer, elk, occasionally even moose, rabbits, porcupines, coyotes, turkey, and various smaller mammals.  They hunt from at dusk to dark, relying on their outstanding vision.

Mountain lions are solitary animals and try to avoid human contact.  They are very territorial and typically avoid other cats, except during courtship.  They have a complex social system whereby they control their numbers and compete fiercely for their territory.  Mountain lions may also compete for prey with other predators, such as bears, wolves, and coyotes, and will often travel long distances searching for food.  They are solitary hunters and after killing their prey, will bury it and return later to feed on it when hungry.  However, a recent study shows that these secretive animals have a hierarchical social system built mainly on sharing food.

Range and Population:
Mountain lions once existed in most of the United States.  Presently they are found in Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.   Their ranges can vary in size, depending on terrain and abundance of prey, but average around 100 square miles.  According to some biologists, there are an estimated 2,500 mountain lions in the state of Utah, but no one knows for sure.  One subspecies, the Florida panther, is critically endangered with a population of fewer than 100 individuals.

Gestation:  90-96 days
Litter size:  1-6 kittens

Mating season is commonly from December to March, however, can occur at any time during the year.  Females typically reproduce every other year and give birth to litters of 1 to 6 (more commonly 2-4), which the mother raises alone.   Kittens have spotted coats until they are around 6 months old. They will nurse for 3 or more months but will begin to take meat at 6 weeks.  The cubs will remain with their mothers until they are about 2 years old. During this time, mothers teach their offspring what is proper prey.  After separating, siblings may remain together for another 2-3 months.

Threats to Mountain Lions:
Mountain lions have no natural enemies.  Poaching, trophy hunting, trapping and auto-related deaths occur at the hand of man, as well as starvation, exposure and predation of cubs whose mothers were killed.  They are also threatened by population growth, development, and habitat loss, where fragmentation is causing many problems for these big cats.



National Geographic

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