What To Do If You Encounter A Mountain Lion: An In-depth Look Into “The Cat Of Many Names”

What do Mountain Lions Look Like?

Mountain Lions (Puma concolor), are known throughout the world as “The cat with many names”, and it is true. They go by many names that you may have heard of, such names include: Mountain Lion, Cougar, Panther, Puma, or Catamount. However, despite the many names that go with this cat, they are all the same animal, Puma concolor. Mountain lions have a tan/beige coat and have white under bellies. The Mountain Lion’s single colored coat is the reason why their scientific name is Puma concolor, which literally means “cat with one color”.

Except for size, both male and female mountain lions look alike. The typical male mountain lion is 30 to 40 percent larger than females. Not only do males outweigh females by 30 to 50 pounds, but they are also longer by 1 to 3 feet from nose to tail. The commonality that male and female mountain lions share is the length of their unusually long tails, which is almost one-third of the lion’s total length.

animal zoo hdr macro
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Where do Mountain Lions Live?

Mountain lions once ranged more extensively than any other mammal in the western hemisphere. Historically, they could be found from the Canadian Yukon to the Straits of Magellan, South America. From the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean. As a result, the people that resided in these regions, ranging from Native Americans to Europeans, gave Puma concolor their own name.

Since the total terrain that mountain lions inhabit contains multiple biomes, mountain lions can be found in all environments from high mountain tops to coastal forest and everything in between, including deserts. Basically, anywhere deer reside, a mountain lion won’t be far. However, in some areas, many of these cats rely on severely fragmented and degraded land to survive on. According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, the total mountain lion population in the United States is unlikely to exceed 30,000.

Mountain lions used to occupy the United States from coast to coast, but now they only occupy 14 western states, and are endangered in Florida. They require large areas of wilderness habitat to thrive and prefer dense undergrowth and cover. If they perceive a threat, they will leave the area. Mountain lions are considered an “umbrella species”, which means that they rely on the preservation of a large amount of habitat. For example, mountain lions require 13 times more habitat area than black bears and 40 times more area than bobcats to thrive. Their territory is an average of 100 square miles.

photo of cougar sleeping
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How long do mountain lions live and what do their cubs look like?

A wild mountain lion will live 7 to 10 years, 5 years if they live in an area that allows mountain lion hunting. Captive mountain lions live twice as long. Mountain lions are solitary, unless they are mating. They are extremely territorial and will even fight another mountain lion to death in order to protect their territory. Mountain lions will mark their territory by leaving large scratch marks on tree bark and/or urinating on trees and surrounding trees.

Mountain lion cubs/kittens (either term is correct) have camouflaging spot and rings around their tales that fade as they grow older. A female mountain lion will move to a new den within her territory every few weeks to protect her cubs from male mountain lions and predators.


What do mountain lions eat?

Mountain lions hunt from dusk to dawn and are primarily carnivores that prefer to prey on deer, coyote, raccoons, rodents, elk, feral hogs, and porcupines. They attack their prey from behind, preferring to bite on its prey’s spinal cord. They kill a deer about once a week, and will drag the corpse to another area, proceeding to cover it with coverage to hide it from other animals and to reduce spoilage. The cat will return to feed at the site over a period of several days.

selective focus photography of brown buck on grass field
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Living with mountain lions

Mountains lions are shy creatures and prefer to avoid humans. But they have been known to occasionally attack people, usually children or solitary adults. Statistics show that, on average, there are only four attacks and one human fatality per year in all the United States and Canada. However, mountain lion attacks have been on the rise as humans increasingly enter their territories.

If you live in mountain lion country, it is smart to bring in your pets at night, as they are an easy meal for this apex predator. When in mountain lion country, avoid walking between dusk and dawn when lions are most active, keep children and pets close to you, and if you encounter a mountain lion, stop, don’t run.


What to do if you encounter a mountain lion

  1. Stand tall
  2. Appear bigger by raising your arms or opening your coat
  3. Maintain eye contact
  4. Slowly wave your arms and speak firmly
  5. Throw items at the mountain lion if necessary
  6. Give the cat room and time to move on
  7. In the rare event of an attack, fight back. Most people succeed in driving the mountain lion away

Fun Facts

  • Mountain lions can reach speeds of 50 mph in a sprint
  • Travel many miles at 10 mph
  • Leap 15 feet up a tree
  • Bound up to 40 feet running


Thank you for reading this article!



“Frequently Asked Questions About Mountain Lions.” Mountain Lion Foundation, mountainlion.org/faqfrequentlyaskedquestions.php.

“Mountain Lion.” National Wildlife Federation, http://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/Mountain-Lion.

“Cougar.” National Geographic, 21 Sept. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/c/cougar/.

“Mountain Lions.” Mountain Lions | US Forest Service, http://www.fs.fed.us/visit/know-before-you-go/mountain-lions.


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