Mountain Lion Facts: Animals of North America

By Lanessa Cago on December 1 2017 in Environment

Young Mountain Lions "play fighting". 'Cougars' can be found throughout much of Mexico, the Western US, and southwestern Canada.

5. Physical Description

The Mountain Lion, also called the Cougar, Puma, or Panther, is a large, terrestrial animal, with most breeds being native to North America. After the jaguar, it is the second most sizable cat, as well as one of most formidable of all mammals living in the wild, in the Western Hemisphere. It has a circular head with upright ears. Its forequarters are muscular and forceful, with a strong jaw fully equipped to pin down and clutch prey larger than itself, such as antelope and deer. Its feet are characterized by five claws on its fore-paws, all of which can be retracted. On its hind paws can be found four claws, with their much more sizable front feet being well adapted to keeping its vise-like grip on prey animals, some of which are much bigger than the mountain lions themselves.

4. Diet

Mountain lions, being obligate carnivores, require a lot of meat protein, especially from their preferred prey of deer and related species. Although they delight in large ungulates such as deer, mountain lions will also devour smaller animals, such as raccoons, coyotes, and porcupines. Livestock, horses, mountain goats, small insects, and rodents are also among the many other animals that the cougar will eat as well. They are accomplished hunters most effective at night or at dusk, and they have a habit of feeding on large carcasses for days on end. Until they have finished them off, they will hide their kills well away from other animals, including those of their own kind. They favor the neck when giving fatal bites, and they are cunning when it comes to stalking and keeping tabs on their next would-be meals.

3. Habitat and Range

In centuries and decades past, mountain lions were found roaming in the wild in all of the United States. However, by the turn of the 20th Century, they had been largely extricated from nearly all of their original ranges, especially those in the Eastern and Midwest US. In recent years, however, in many of the states in these regions as well as the provinces of Canada, populations have been found to be adequately sustainable for sport hunting. Transient males have since been reported in western regions of Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas, as well as Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and the upper peninsulas of both Illinois and Michigan. Further west beyond the Rockies to the specific, populations have always remained much larger. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies Mountain Lions as a species of "Least Concern". Still, the large cats have need to be protected in many areas. While most live in western North America today, they can be found in virtually every New World habitat south of the Yukon River, with smaller populations being found in Central and South America.

2. Behavior

Mountain lions are solitary animals preferring to live alone, and are therefore not always seen by humans, whom they will often try to avoid. In order to thrive, they need a lot of open space away from other animals, as they are secretive and quite reclusive. Occasionally, they have been found to attack people, especially children or adults who travel alone rather than in groups. Another distinct behavior of the cougar is its refusal to consume anything that it did not hunt. Although they normally turn up their noses to carrion, in some rare instances in California they have been reported to exhibit opportunistic feeding behaviors, devouring carcasses intentionally left out in the open by research biologists. Across much of their diaspora's range, mountain lions have few, if any, natural predators.

1. Reproduction

Sexual maturity in female cougars is reached within one and a half years of life, with an average of one litter being born every two years or so throughout a female's entire lifespan. Mating is short, albeit occurring more frequently as compared to other animals of comparable size. Monogamy is not a common trait in mountain lions, with the females changing partners fairly regularly throughout their reproductive lifetimes. Females typically raise cubs alone, and can quickly become violently defensive of their young ones. Stress is often the cause of low reproductive rates, both in the wild and in captivity. Common causes of mountain lion mortality in the wild are starvation, fights with other mountain lions, disease, chronic stress, and human hunting.

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