Mountain Lion

California Trail

Location

In the Zoo

Scientific Information

Scientific Name: Puma concolor cougar
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Puma

Size

Male

Female

Height: 2.1-2.5 feet 2 feet
Length: 3-5.5 feet
Weight: 143-187 pounds 71-102 pounds
Maturity: 21-27 months 18- 43 months

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet: Carnivorous
Activity Timeframe:
Interactivity:
Sexual Dimorphism: Yes
Gestation: 90-96 days
Lifespan in the Wild: females 7.5 years males 6.5 years
Lifespan in Captivity: 19-20 years

Geographic Range

Southern Canada to Patagonia

Conservation

Status in the Wild:
Threats:

Characteristics

Species Specifics

Has the largest geographic range of the New World cats, apparently larger than any terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere. Based on genetic analysis, there are 6 different subspecies, including ours, the North American Puma concolor cougar.

Physical Characteristics

Compared with other large cats, the mountain lion has unusually long hind legs, which are thought to be an adaptation for jumping. They have a relatively long spinal column, which provided lumbar flexion while running. Mountain lions from warm, humid areas tend to be darker in color, while the cats from drier habitats are light colored.

Ecology

Habitat

Desert, savannah, tropical rain forest, alpine steppe

Distribution

Home Range: There is a lot of variation depending on the range, but data show that mountain lions in the Santa Ana Mountains (southern CA) travel an average of 4 miles per day, with most travel occurring at night. Home ranges can vary in not only size, but in overlap. Males and females can have ranges with extensive, slight, or no overlap, between the home ranges of both sexes. Prey: Ranges from small rodents to fully-grown deer. Across North America, deer make up 60-80% of the mountain lion's diet. In California, mountain lions have been seen leaping boulders and dodging clumps of vegetation while hunting jackrabbits. Occasionally, they even manage to catch pronghorn antelope. Prey killed in the open are almost dragged into some brush or dense thicket before the puma begins eating. The cat remains near the kill- in one case for as long as nineteen days- with only occasional short trips away until the carcass is completely consumed. Consume between 4-10 pounds of meat a day, if possible. They do practice caching their food if they intend to come back.

Diet

Ranges from small rodents to fully-grown deer

Ecological Web

Ecological Role: Puma kills are often scavenged by other mammals including coyotes, foxes, bobcats, wolves, pigs, and bears.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

Crepuscular (mainly active at twilight). They will generally rest during the middle of the day, coinciding with the activity patterns of their major prey. However, they do change their behavior based on human activities as well (ex: becoming more nocturnal around logging).

Behavior

Highly adaptable to various habitats, but because mountain lions are ambush predators, one of the habitat requirements is stalking cover (rocks, cliffs, sagebrush, or trees). Seasonal differences in habitat use depending on the movement of their prey. Have the ability to swim and climb trees if needed. When hunting, mountain lions exhibit a punctuated movement pattern: cats spend long periods waiting at one location, followed by rapid movement to another location, where the cat will again sit for a long time (an average of 42 minutes). Unless the cat makes a kill, this pattern is repeated many times a night.

Social Behavior

Generally considered solitary, but their behaviors vary from place to place because they are so adaptable to a wide range of environmental circumstances. Breeding pairs occasionally share kills, but most mountain lion groups consist of a female and her kittens. However, new research has shown mountain lions may be more social than previously thought. A recent notable example is two females with their kittens and an adult male all shared a kill. Researchers are looking into the genetics to see if these cats are related individuals. They do maintain contact through occasional direct encounters and more frequently by various visual, auditory, and olfactory forms of indirect communication.

Reproductive Behavior

Breeding pairs generally stay together 1-4 days, with a range of 1-16 days. Females generally give birth ever 17-20 months. Initially, females go through a period of mixed aggression and solicitation. Activity increases with calling, body rubbing, and the male following her closely. During copulation, the male will often bite the neck fur of the female, and both may scream and yowl.

Offspring

3-4 (although 1-6 have been reported)

Conservation

Status

Listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, CITES Appendix I Population trend: DecreasingThough their range appears to be increasing in the United States (mountain lions have recently been seen in the Midwest [FIND ARTICLE]), the overall mountain lion population is decreasing. There are no accurate estimates for their full population, partially because they are so elusive, and partially because there is not enough research done throughout their range. Mountain lions are being killed at higher rates today than even just a few years ago. In 2008, 1,770 mountain lions were harvested in just 7 states, compared to 843 in 10 states in 1980.

Historical

Historically, the mountain lion was found from northern British Columbia across the southern portions of the Canadian provinces to New Brunswick, south through all of the United States, through Central America, and into South America to the Southern top of Chile. Extirpated by the late 1890s from the eastern half of its historic range in the U.S. and Canada, except for a small population in southern Florida.

Current Threats

Our Role

How You Can Help

Advocate for protecting mountain lions throughout all the United States and their full range, disallowing sport hunting. Support research that studies the real effect of mountain lion (as well as jaguar) depredation and programs that find solutions to livestock depredation problems. When working in your garden build a deer-resistant yard. Deer bring mountain lions to developed areas; if deer do not spend time in our yards, this will greatly reduce human/mountain lion conflict. Never feed wild animals; walk pets on leash; keep small pets inside; supervise small children outside, especially at twilight.

Fascinating Facts

This species is listed in the dictionary under more names than any other mammal in the United States. Columbus was one of the first to call this cat a 'lion' because its tawny coat resembled that of the African lion.

There was a debate amongst scientists as to whether mountain lions should be in the small or large cat family for many years. Based on morphology and the fact that they purr like smaller cats and do not roar like large cats, they were originally placed in the small cat family. However, with the increase in genetic data, they have been placed in their own lineage (which includes the mountain lion, jaguarmundi, and cheetah) in between large and small cats.

In the early Pleistocene in North America, cats like our current mountain lions were common and in some areas lived alongside lions, jaguars, and a cheetah-like cat.

In California, an adult female and her two five-month-old young cubs made 6 kills in 29 days. One mountain lions (or possibly two) fed on an adult female elk kill for 27 days. Many times mountain lions are blamed for kills when quite often it is another species.

References

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendices I, II, and III. (2012). Retrieved April 12, 2012 from http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php

The Encyclopedia of Mammals David MacDonald

Wild Cats of the World by Mel & Fiona Sunquist

Biology & Conservation of Wild Felids by D.W. MacDonald & A.J. Loveridge

Cougar Ecology and Conservation Edited by Maurice Hornocker and Sharon Negri 2010

Caso, A., Lopez-Gonzalez, C., Payan, E., Eizirik, E., de Oliveira, T., Leite-Pitman, R., Kelly, M., Valderrama, C. & Lucherini, M. 2008. Puma concolor. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. . Downloaded on 02 July 2012.

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9777 Golf Links Road Oakland, CA 94605