The mountain lion is called by more names than any other Colorado mammal – cougar, puma, panther, catamount or just plain lion – and all connote respect for a magnificent hunter. Colorado’s largest cat, adult mountain lions are more than six feet long, with a graceful, black-tipped tail 32 inches long. They weigh 130 pounds or more. Color is reddish to buffy, paler below.
Range: Cougars have the largest geographic range of any American native mammal other than humans – from western Canada to Argentina. Once they ranged from coast to coast in the United States, but today eastern populations are extinct or endangered; the West is their stronghold.
Habitat: In Colorado they are most abundant in foothills, canyons or mesa country. They are more at home in brushy areas and woodlands than in forests or open prairies.
Diet: Active year round, the lion’s staple diet is deer. Adults maintain their condition by eating a deer a week. Cougars hunt by stealth, often pouncing on prey from a tree or rock overhanging a game trail. The deer is often killed cleanly with a broken neck. The cat gorges on the carcass until it can eat no more, covers the remainder with leaves or conifer needles, then fasts for a few days, digesting and resting.
Reproduction: Mountain lions may breed at any time of year, but mating peaks in the spring. Births are most common in July, after a gestation period of about 14 weeks. Two or three spotted, fist-sized (about one pound) kittens are a typical litter. They are weaned about six weeks of age, at about eight times their birth weight.
IF YOU MEET A MOUNTAIN LION
Stay calm if you come upon a lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly. Stop or back away slowly. Do not run. Raise you arms to appear larger. If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches, or whatever you can get your hands on. Do not crouch down or turn your back. Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back.
Human encounters with mountain lions have increased in recent years, as human settlement has encroached on lion habitat. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s booklet, Living with Wildlife in Lion Country is a valuable resource with important safety information, and also check out the "Mountain Lion Safety" video for more tips on being safe in lion country.
By David M. Armstrong
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History
University of Colorado-Bouldermausmann@aol.com