San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Puma concolor
Mountain lion

Family: Felidae


The mountain lion--also known as cougar, painter, puma, panther, or catamount--is one of three native cats in the Pacific region of the United States, along with the bobcat and the Canadian lynx (Ingles). It's a very large member of the cat family, and an efficient carnivore. The mountain lion ranges in color from a tawny or rufous brown to a dusky or slate gray. Its undersides and inside the ears are white. Dark brown coloration appears on the tip of the tail, backs of the ears, and sides of the nose. The mountain lion has claws that retract into protective coverings in its paws.

Size: Mountain lions vary considerably in size. The head and body measure between 107-270 cm (42-96 in.) in length, and the tail measures 76-91 cm (30-36 in.). It can weigh as much as 100 kg (220 pounds), but most adult females weigh 34-80 kg (75-176 lbs), and males range from 67 to 103 kg (148-227 lbs) The height at the shoulder is 66-79 cm (26-31 in.).

Range and Habitat

This animal ranges throughout the Americas, from British Columbia to Patagonia. Historically the mountain lion could be found throughout the United States. Now, however, it is found in the western third of the United States, as well as in Texas and southern Florida.

In San Diego County, mountain lions can be found wherever there are deer populations. Rugged terrain with woods or rocks are prime mountain lion habitat. They den in any concealed, sheltered spot.

Natural History

Behavior: Mountain lions are essentially nocturnal, but can be found abroad during the day. They roam through a large home range, an area that can vary in size from 90 to 290 km2. The long, heavy tail helps it kept its balance when running, jumping and climbing.

Mountain lions are solitary animals that hunt alone and socialize only during mating. Females raise their cubs alone. Cubs stay with their mother until nearly two years old.

Reproduction: Mountain lions begin to breed between two and three years old, then every two to three years thereafter. They may breed at anytime during the year, and the young are born after a gestation period of approximately three months. A litter usually consists of three spotted kittens, but may number as many as six. Their eyes open about ten days after birth.

Prey: The primary food of mountain lions is deer, but they will also take porcupines, hares, rodents, and sometimes livestock. Mountain lions will cache uneaten meat.

Text by Dr. Paisley Cato; photo by Kenneth L. Fink, SDNHM photo archives

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