Mountain Lion

(Puma concolor)


Mountain lion, puma, cougar—this cat is known by more names than just about any other mammal. With the exception of humans, the mountain lion has the largest range of any terrestrial mammal in the Western hemisphere, from northern British Columbia to Argentina. They live in a variety of habitats, at home in forests, prairies, deserts, and swamps.

Mountain lions are generally a solid tawny color, with slightly darker hair on the back and a whitish underside. Those living in warm, humid areas tend to be a darker, reddish brown color, and mountain lions found in colder climates have thicker, longer hair that is almost silver-gray in color. Mountain lions are powerfully built, with large paws and sharp claws. Their hind legs are larger and more muscular than their front legs, which gives them great jumping power. They can run fast and have a flexible spine like a cheetah’s to help them maneuver around obstacles and change direction quickly. Mountain lions can jump 18 feet from the ground into a tree, and they have been known to jump 20 feet up or down a hillside.

Mountain lions can also growl, hiss, mew, yowl, squeak, spit, and purr to get their message across with other cats, and they are known for a short, high-pitched scream and a whistle-like call.

They eat a variety of prey depending on where they live, including deer, pigs, capybaras, raccoons, armadillos, hares, and squirrels. Some larger cats even bring down prey as big as an elk or a moose. Mountain lions often bury part of their kill to save for a later meal, hiding the food with leaves, grass, dirt, or even snow, depending on the habitat and time of year.

Mountain lions have an essential role to play in their ecosystems. They are one of the top predators, and without them, populations of deer and herbivores would become unhealthy and too large for the habitat.

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