Monday, September 21, 2009
Mountain Lion Facts
Legends & Lore
NH's Mountain Lions
Mountain Lion Facts
Scientific Name: Puma concolor
Life Span: 8-11 years and up to 15-18 years in the wild and 19-20 years in captivity
Size: Males are 6-8 feet long; 110-180 pounds Females 5 to 7 feet long; 80 to 130 pounds
Status: western populations stable; increased sightings in the east, although officially extirpated in NH
Offspring: 1-6 cubs; usually 3 or 4
Description: The species name concolor indicates that the pelt color does not vary over the back, sides, limbs and tail. The color however varies geographically and seasonally from light gray to cinnamon to rust red and light tan or brown. The under parts, inner ear, lower cheeks, chin and lips are white. There are black markings on the side of the muzzle, back of the ears and the tip of the adult tail. Both males and females are colored alike. Young have black or brown spots on buffy fur for up to 18 months which gradually disappear as they mature. Adult size varies greatly and can be anywhere from 5.5 feet to 8.5 feet in length (including the tail). The tail can be up to 1/3 of the animal’s length. Weights also vary, ranging from 60 to 225 pounds. Their feet are broad with 4 digits behind and 5 digits on the front. Estimated life span in the wild is 8 – 11 years (maximum 15-18 years) and over 20 in captivity.
Habitat: The Mountain lion has a wide range of habitats although these are steadily diminishing with the encroachment of human populations. They are found in high temperate and tropical lowland forests, grasslands, swamps and any area with adequate cover and sufficient prey. Mountain lions have been found anywhere from sea-level to 10,000 feet. Habitat has become fragmented and confined in the continental USA to 12 western states and the southern tip of Florida. Mountain lions are also found in parts of Canada, Mexico and South America. Mountain lion numbers are low east of the Mississippi although there is a remnant population (Florida panther subspecies) in Florida. Generally within the geographical range mentioned above, look for them in large wilderness areas. Their environmental preference is a rocky canyon, escarpment, rim rocks or dense brush. Flat brushless deserts, agricultural areas and heavily timbered areas are avoided in favor of cleared areas at the edge of forests or wetlands. Males have a range of anywhere from 25-200 square miles with a possible overlap with another male of up to 3 miles. Females are more stable and confine their permanent home range from 5 to 20 square miles. Living areas can be identified by a scrape or even a small pile of leaves and grasses on which the male urinates or defecates to establish its territory. More likely look for an overhanging ledge, a crevice, a dry cavity, under roots or even a badger burrow or deep thicket.
Predators and Prey: Ungulates are the primary prey. It is estimated that a healthy Mountain Lion will take up to 48 deer, moose, elk or caribou a year consuming from 860 to 1300 kg of meat. In North America if deer are not available they are known to take coyote, bobcat, porcupine, beaver, rabbit, opossum, raccoon, skunk, rodents and even snake and fish. The mountain lion kills by stalking and then leaping on the back of the prey , breaking its neck by biting behind the skull. In the course of a night hunt and stalk, the mountain lion will travel up to six miles in 6 bursts of 1-2 hours each with a rest period in between. They stalk by crouching in a concealed position ready to pounce with its ears upright and tail twitching. When feeding, if it does not consume all the carcass, it will bury the remainder for later consumption. Some mountain lions have been observed eating vegetation, although animal flesh is the favored diet. Mountain lions have also been known to take domestic livestock which has led to their pursuit and killing as an unwanted predator. Sport hunting is legal in 11 western states. The only exception is California. It is estimated that 2500 mountain lion are shot and killed each year by professional and other hunters.
Adaptations and Behavior: Mountain lions are solitary animals. This solitude is broken for the adult only for breeding and parenting. Population densities vary from one animal per 25-50 square miles to one per 8-34 square miles. The animals tend to space themselves to accomodate the food supply. Up to three females with young live within an area used by a resident male. Within that same range, at any one time, will be the resident adults, juveniles, transients, kittens and young adults who have not established home ranges. Movement tends to be nocturnal with occasional crepuscular forays. Communication appears to be through vocalizations of hisses, growls and purrs, but never roars. Males from a litter band together after leaving the mother, but then disperse as adults seeking and establishing their own ranges. Generally a mountain lion will use a winter and summer home area and migrate between them, possibly hundreds of miles apart. Although adept at climbing trees, mountain lions spend most of their time on the ground. The mountain lion’s hind legs are long while the front legs are short and very muscular giving it the ability to jump15-18 feet vertically and 30-45 feet horizontally. It is estimated that they can run at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour covering more than 100 yards in less than 5 seconds. In spite of this great speed, they can only cover a short distance before requiring a rest.
Breeding and Development: Female mountain lions begin breeding at about 3 years of age and then breed once every 2 or 3 years. They mate during any season with the courtship initiated by the female and usually includes mating with a number of males. Typical litters of 1 to 6 kittens are born after a gestation period of 82-98 days. Newborns weigh up to one pound and rapidly gain weight. At birth the kittens are wooly, spotted and have short tails. Their eyes open in about 8 or 9 days. They develop teeth when they are a month old and are weaned when about 2 or 3 months at which time they accompany their mother to kills. Kittens remain with the mother into their second year.
Fun Facts: Also known as cougar, catamount, panther and 35 other names. The SLNSC mountain lions arrived in January 2003 from Montana. They were unfortunately orphaned at a young age and initially raised by the Montana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. There have been many reports of mountain lion sightings in the NH lakes region. As of this writing, there are scat samples submitted for DNA analysis to confirm the presence of these large cats in NH. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department does not recognize the presence of mountain lions in NH due to lack of confirmed sightings.
Photos and facts courtesy of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center
P.O. Box 173, Holderness, NH 03245
Phone: 603-968-7194; ext. 34
I Believe T-Shirt from Moosewood Communications