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Wildlife Questions Answered: How Big Do Mountain Lions Get? How Fast Are They?

Here is the average size of a mountain lion plus other fascinating big cat facts.

One of them most misunderstood carnivores in North America is likely the mountain lion, or as they are known by their other common name, the cougar. These animals are the largest cats living here. Their historic home range used to cover the entire continental United States.

Today, mountain lion populations been greatly reduced to mostly parts of the western U.S. There is a small population in Florida and sightings of these wild cats are often reported, but rarely confirmed in many other areas.

These are solitary animals that tend to avoid people at all costs. Because of this fact, many people don't realize just how large this cat species can grow. Today, we'll answer this and other burning questions the Internet has about these beautiful and powerful animals.

How big is a mountain lion?

How Big is a Mountain LionPuma 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!

With cougars, the males are usually larger than the females. An adult male can reach nearly eight feet in length and adult females can routinely reach 6.5 feet in length. Weights vary from just over 100 pounds to over 220 pounds. It is worth noting that these large cats rarely get over that 200-pound mark. Most adult males stay in that 150-170 pound-range. For a better idea on how big these animals get, the Boone and Crockett world record taken by a hunter scored 16 4/16 inches. That animal's skull measured 9 9/16 inches long and was 6 11/16 inches wide. That's a large head!

There are plenty of photos of hunters posing with animals on the Internet that are rumored to be 250-276 pounds. In most cases, an official weight isn't available and we can chalk most up to nothing more than Internet urban legend.

Mountain lion habitat often dictates their size. In many ways, their size mirrors what happens with deer, one of a cougar's favorite prey items. Deer are often smaller in body size the further south you go. As a result, Florida panthers and big cats in places like Texas are almost always going to be smaller than one found in British Columbia or the Yukon.

What is the difference between a cougar and a mountain lion?

The name is the only difference. These animals are all part of the greater Felidae family of cat species that includes everything from the bobcats of North America to the cheetahs of the African plains and even India's Bengal tigers. The name seems to vary depending upon region. We already mentioned the Florida panther, which is another name variation for the same animal.

Less commonly, you might hear names like catamount and puma tossed about. Another common one is "black panther." Again, this is the same animal, just in a common melanistic color phase. The different common name variations do cause a fair amount of confusion, especially in areas where they are used interchangeably with each other. Just remember when you hear them, that they are referring to the same species, the largest cat in North America!

What does a mountain lion sound like?

Hollywood and wilderness movies have no doubt had a negative impact in the perceived sounds many people believe these animals should make. Most movies tend to portray more of a low growl or a vicious roar. We think this was probably done for dramatic effect, especially if your movie is portraying a survival situation. In truth, they don't make much noise at all. When they do, it's mostly to convey things to other cougars. It makes sense that they don't make much noise. They wouldn't be a very effective predator if they were noisy!

When they do make noise, it's more of a raspy scream than a growl. You can hear an example in the video above. It almost sounds like the yowling of a house cat, just much louder than you may be used to hearing. To be fair, this sound is still quite chilling to most humans. It's certainly not something we want to hear outside the tent on our next camping trip!

Other than the loud screeching sounds, they also purr, squeak and meow like ordinary housecats. In some instances, the sounds are so high-pitched, it would be easier to mistake them for ordinary sounds of the woods like birds and insects. You may have even heard one in the wild before without ever 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.

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.

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.

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

Looking for ways to keep mountain lions away? Check out these deterrent lights from Amazon.

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



Wildlife Questions Answered: How Big Do Mountain Lions Get? How Fast Are They?