The mountain lion—also known as the cougar, puma, panther, or catamount—is a large cat species native to the Americas. 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. 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 and 220 pounds (52 and 100 kilograms) and females weigh between 64 and 141 pounds (29 and 64 kilograms).

Mountain lions have a distinctive “M” shaped pad with three lobes on the rear of the heel (dogs only have two lobes). Their claw marks do not show in the track. Walking, the cat’s hind foot steps in his fore track, creating overlapping patterns.  Their toes slant — similar to human feet — indicating left or right foot. Dog tracks are more symmetrical, and the raised dirt in the middle forms an “X”  shape. Click here for more information on mountain lion tracks, scat and other signs.

Mountain lions can breed year-round. Female mountain lions usually give birth every two years. Litters can range in size from one to six cubs. The young may stay with their mother for as long as 26 months, but usually separate after about 15 months. In the wild, a mountain lion can live up to 10 years. In captivity, they can live up to 21 years.

Mountain Lion Facts 

  • The mountain lion is also known as cougar, panther, or puma.  Body coloration can range from tan to gray and cubs are usually covered with blackish brown spots.
  • Adult males may be more than 8 feet long (from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail), and can weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. Adult females can be 7 feet long and weigh between 65 and 90 pounds.
  • Generally speaking, mountain lions can be found wherever deer are present. Their usual habitat is steep, rocky canyons or mountainous terrain.
  • Mountain lions can be found in deserts as well as coastal forests, and from sea level to 10,000-foot elevations.
  • An adult male’s home range is typically more than 100 square miles and females generally use smaller areas, approximately 20 to 60 square miles

Mountain Lion Appearance & Behavior

These predators look very much like over-sized short-hair house cats. They have small heads with short faces. Ears are rounded and small. Their bodies are long and sleek, with long necks and tails. Puma legs are powerful, suited to rapid increase of speed and made for pouncing. The cats’ teeth seize their prey, tearing and slashing the meat.

The average mountain lion is an animal that ranges from about 3’3″ in length to about 5’5″. But with their tails, some males measure as long as nine feet and females up to seven feet. The cats stand between two feet and 2’6″ from the ground to their shoulders. In adulthood, females weigh from 80 to 100 pounds and males from 125 to 160 pounds. Mountain lion color in the United States is most commonly tan. Throughout the Americas, their color ranges from a tawny color to a bluish gray. Their bellies, inner legs and throats are always lighter in color, with their noses and tails having black or dark edges. Babies are born with spots to camouflage them in the wild. These spots fade at about six months. Their blue eyes also change to yellow by the age of 16 months.

How Many Mountain Lions Are There?

The solitary and elusive nature of mountain lions makes them difficult to research and practically impossible to count. Population estimation models are based on numerous long-term studies of lion populations, their prey, and habitat mapping. Based on the best available data at this time, the Mountain Lion Foundation believes the mountain lion population in the United States is unlikely to exceed 30,000. And, many of those lions depend upon severely fragmented and degraded habitat, are in severe danger of over-hunting and road kill, are imperiled by intolerance of their presence on the landscape, and are so few and unconnected they are on the edge of genetic viability. People are responsible for the death of more than 3,000 mountain lions in the U.S. each and every year.

How and Where do Mountain Lions Live in the U.S.?

Mountain lions used to occupy the entire United States coast-to-coast, but today they are primarily found in 14 western states with a small endangered population in Florida. Five very small populations have regained an unsteady foothold just east of the Rockies in the 1980s and 90s, but their future is uncertain.

They prefer areas with dense undergrowth and cover, and will leave an area if they perceive a threat. Found in deserts, humid coast forests, arid hillsides, scrub and oak woodlands, lions can live from sea level to snow-covered mountain peaks.

What Do Mountain Lions Eat?

Opportunistic hunters, mountain lions typically hunt alone from dusk to dawn, taking their prey (primarily deer) from behind. On average, a lion will kill a deer about once a week. They also dine on coyotes, raccoons, rodents, elk, feral hogs, and even porcupines. They may drag the meal to another area and cover it with dry leaves, grass or pine needles to protect the food from other animals and to reduce spoilage. A mountain lion may return to feed at the site over a period of several days. For more information on a lion’s diet, read Chapter Four of MLF’s on-line book; Cougar: The American Lion.

Are Mountain Lions Dangerous?

To deer, yes! To people, not so much. Human encounters with mountain lions are rare and the risk of an attack is infinitely small. You are more likely to drown in your bathtub, be killed by a pet dog, or hit by lightning. If lions had any natural urge to hunt people, there would be attacks every single day. Instead, they avoid us.

Are Mountain Lions Carnivores, Herbivores, Or Omnivores?

Mountain lions are carnivores. They prefer white tail and mule deer meat over all other food, with deer making up about 80 to 90 percent of their diet. When they cannot find or kill a deer, these predators will prey on any animal. They eat elk, moose, bighorn sheep, porcupine, rabbit, raccoon, coyote, rodents, reptiles and birds. If all else fails or as an easy snack, some even eat insects. When eating large game, the cats first devour the heart, liver and lungs.

Do Mountain Lions Attack Humans?

Mountain lions avoid humans whenever possible. If they encounter a human, the cats have been known to stalk and even kill people as prey. They will attack if they feel threatened on their territory. But this happens only as frequently as a human is struck and killed by lightning. Only about a dozen mountain lion attacks occur each year in the U.S., with about three to four deaths per year. Considering the lions cover more ground than any other non-human mammal in the Western Hemisphere, this is a very low number of encounters, attacks and deaths.

What Should You Do If You See A Mountain Lion?

If you see mountain lion tracks, start talking out loud, making noise and otherwise behaving in a manner that will startle a nearby cat. When a human encounters a mountain lion, the best advice is to lock eyes with it and wave your arms to appear larger while standing tall. Throw rocks or other items at it and make a lot of noise, but stay in one spot. You should never run from a mountain lion or turn your back to it. Doing so usually makes them engage in a chase. The lion will eventually run away if you give it the space and opportunity to do so. Sightings of these cats are more common than ever, with some puma coming out of the mountains of California, Washington, Colorado and Idaho to prey on residents’ pets. But these sightings occur with the same odds of a human being struck by lightning, so they are rare.

What Is The History Of Mountain Lion Attacks In North America?

In the past 100 years, 125 mountain lion attacks have been documented in all of North America, with 27 being fatal. Between 1890 and 1970, only ten fatalities were listed. One of those was determined to be a hoax, in 1909. Three people died in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, six in the 1990s, three in the 2000s and two since 2010. The last two deaths were in Washington and Oregon.

What Is The Difference Between A Mountain Lion And A Cougar?

Mountain lions include six subspecies, of which cougar is one of those subspecies. The cougar is the North American Mountain Lion, Puma concolor cougar, which lives throughout the U.S. The mountain lion is in the Guinness Book of World Records, as the animal with the most nicknames. “Cougar” is one of the 40 nicknames for mountain lions, along with puma, panther, catamount, mountain screamer, Mexican lion, painter, red lion and American lion.

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