Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion

Puma concolor

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions, as they’re commonly called in the West, are also known as cougars, pumas, and panthers. Males commonly weigh 110 – 232 pounds, while females range from 79 – 132 pounds, though Texas cats typically weigh at the lower end of the range. Very nimble climbers and great jumpers, they can leap 30 feet and can spring 15 feet vertically. One to four kittens is the usual litter size. Females’ habitats often overlap habitat of their mothers, while males disperse sometimes great distances from their birthplace. Across their range, they can be found in every type of habitat. They are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular.

These cats existed throughout the entire continental United States until the early European settlers arrived. They viewed large predators as a threat to themselves, their livestock, and prey species and eradicated them from the eastern and central parts of the country. The mountain lions were left to survive mostly in the mountain west, which is still their stronghold today. However, as their territory contracts in the West where some states are at carrying capacity for mountain lions, they are now documented in parts of the Midwest as they move eastward to establish new territory. Though the majority of these dispersing cats have been male, there have been a few sightings of females.

Mountain lions have over 100 different names, owing to the extent of their vast range from Canada to the tip of South America.

They are known by the Quechua name pumas and cougars from Tupi, both indigenous South American words. The Spaniards who came to America believed they were female African lions, hence the name mountain lions. Their coloring can range from light to dark brown, but there are no confirmed black panthers (mountain lions).

Ungulates, such as white-tailed and mule deer in Texas comprise the bulk of their diet in North America. They will also kill other predators like bobcats and coyotes as well as raccoons, javelina, and other species. They will kill free-ranging sheep and goats, but livestock doesn’t normally constitute a large share of their diet.

Mountain lions will kill deer with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a lethal and highly contagious neurological disease affecting deer and other cervids, yet the cats do not develop the disease. Though not a significant part of their diet, they will kill feral hogs.

The mountain lion, as it is commonly known in the western US, is the most widespread terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere (other than humans) and the fourth biggest cat after tigers, African lions, and jaguars. However, it is not classified as a true big cat like the aforementioned felines because it cannot roar. It is in the same lineage as jaguarundis and cheetahs.

Credit: Fin & Fur Films

There are two populations of mountain lions in Texas, in west and south Texas. The west Texas population is considered stable, likely due to immigration of cats from Mexico and New Mexico; however, trapping for predator control remains the primary cause of mountain lion mortality. The south Texas population, considered unstable, is affected by human encroachment, including habitat fragmentation. The number of both populations is unknown.

In Texas, they are classified as nongame animals with no protection, even though they are categorized as imperiled/vulnerable by Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

Apex predators like mountain lions play an important role in regulating lower species, such as herbivores, that has a cascading effect further down the food chain. Without these predators, Nature becomes unbalanced with a proliferation of species that consume too much of our natural resources. Recent research has shown that through their kills mountain lions provide food for an astonishing 3.3 million pounds of meat daily to other species across their range.

Credit: Fin & Fur Films

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