Species Profile: How Big Are Mountain Lions?


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One of the most misunderstood carnivores in North America is likely the mountain lion, also commonly referred to as the cougar. These are the largest cats on the entire continent, and they're as fierce as they are majestic. While their home range once covered the entire continental United States, populations have greatly decreased, leaving sustainable numbers in only the West. There is, however, a small population in Florida, but confirmed sightings in other eastern states are extremely rare. As very solitary animals, they tend to avoid humans at all costs, which leads to a misrepresentation of not only their range, but also their size. So, if you're living in a western state and have though there are no mountain lions near you because you haven't seen them, there probably are, you just never see them. And, if you wondering how big they actually grow, we have the answers for you.

How big is a mountain lion?

How Big is a Mountain Lion

Puma concolor, as they are known by their scientific name, vary in size depending on where they are found and the type of subspecies. However, most tend to stand about 30 inches high at the shoulder. To put into perspective just how tall that is, consider that a large German shepherd dog stands between 23 and 26 inches high. That's a big cat!

Males are typically larger than females, growing up to 8 feet long, whereas females routinely reach 6.5 feet. Weights will vary from 100 to 220 pounds, though it's very rare to see even a male cougar break that 200-pound threshold (the average adult male is 150-170 pounds). The majority of photos that circulate online with claims of weights in the 250-275 range can usually be chalked up to urban Internet legend, as they never seem to have an official weight. The Boone and Crockett world record for a hunter-taken cougar, however, claims royalty with its skull measurement of 16 4/16 inches (9 9/16 inches long and 6 11/16 inches wide).

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While there are many factors that determine a mountain lion's size, the one with the most influence is undoubtedly their habitat. There's usually a direct correlation between a mountain lion's size and the health of local deer populations, as they serve as a cougar's favorite prey. Because deer are often smaller in size down south in places like Florida and Texas, so are the mountain lions. But up in areas like British Columbia or Yukon, mountain lions carry a little more weight, as do their quarry.

Although commonly misunderstood, the names "mountain lion" and "cougar" refer to the same animal. You'll also hear people calling them catamounts, pumas, or panthers, but they're all the same species, they just carry different name variations that tend to be regional.

Ironically, though, they're also part of the greater Felidae family, which comprises every cat species from bobcats in North America to cheetahs of the African plains or Bengal tigers in India.

What does a mountain lion sound like?

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Hollywood and wilderness movies have no doubt had a negative impact in the perceived sounds many people believe these mammals should make. Probably for dramatic effect, most movies tend to give them more of a low growl or a vicious roar, but they don't actually make much noise at all unless they're trying to communicate with other cougars. If you think about it, a noisy growl wouldn't do them any favors, as its their stealthiness that makes them such a formidable predator.

In the rare event that they do make noise, it's more of a raspy scream than it is a growl, which you can hear in the video above. It sounds much more like a wild cat than it does a lion, but it's still chilling for a human who's never heard it. Not only is it far louder than your typical house cat, but it's also a pretty scary sound to hear outside your tent on a camping trip. Other than the loud screeching sounds, they also purr, squeak and meow like ordinary cats. Sometimes the sounds are so high-pitched that the average camper could mistake them for ordinary birds or insects out in the woods, meaning it's possible you've heard one without even realizing it.

What does mountain lion poop look like?

This may seem like a silly question, but it's a good one to ask. It can't hurt for all hikers, backpackers and outdoorsmen to know what to look for, especially since the animals usually use droppings to help mark out the borders of their territory. It will often be in prominent locations to further emphasize that.

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One of the biggest tell-tale signs is that scat from a mountain lion will often have bits of feather, hair and bones in it. It is often segmented and is often grey or white in appearance. If you go look in your cat's litter box, imagine that, but scaled up to the large size of the animal.

Mountain lion droppings may be eight to nine inches long and up to one inch wide. If you see it while out engaging in wilderness areas, you shouldn't be frightened. Just be aware that there may be a large cat in the area.

How fast is a mountain lion?

Fast enough that you won't be able to run away! In all seriousness, these big cats are quite fast. They're not quite as speedy as a cheetah, but they can use those powerful front and hind legs to reach speeds of 30-50 miles per hour in some instances.

This makes sense when you consider their primary prey items are speedy ungulates like deer. However, mountain lions will also chase down other fast-moving prey like rabbits, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope and more. Some are even known to kill feral hogs, armadillos, raccoons and even porcupines. That means not only must lions have powerful limbs to chase down prey, but to help them capture and kill it too.

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What to do if you see a mountain lion

How Big is a Mountain Lion

Mountain lion attacks are rare, but the fear of these animals persists. It's understandable. These are large carnivores and are quite capable of killing a human. The National Park Service recommends keeping your cool. Never panic or try to run away. As we just noted, you cannot outrun one of these animals. They are also excellent climbers, so forget about trying to flee up a tree either.

Make yourself as large as possible. Most cougar attacks can be avoided simply by waving your arms. Most cats are afraid of humans and will shy away once you start yelling at them. The NPS recommends throwing rocks or sticks at an animal that's more persistent. In most cases, that will be the end of it.

Try to avoid hiking alone as much as possible and keep your distance, especially if mountain lion kittens are present. This is good advice for avoiding nasty bear encounters, too. In the unlikely event that you are attacked by a mountain lion, the recommended defense is identical to that of a shark attack. Simply fight back against the attack as best as you can. Use whatever you can grab as a weapon and try not to let the animal knock you off your feet.

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In most instances, if you leave the animals alone, they'll usually leave you alone too.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his YouTube channel.

READ MORE: 8-YEAR-OLD FIGHTS OFF MOUNTAIN LION WITH A STICK

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