Mammals: Mountain Lion

    The forester halted on the trail feeling an unknown presence. A tawny form appeared a short distance away, camouflaged by patches of sunlight and yellow grasses. The feline eyes were penetrating, the neck and shoulder muscles rippling, and the long tail still. After an eternity of minutes, the cougar’s liquid tan form silently melted back into the timber...

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    The Mountain Lion (Felis concolor) is named for the cat of one color and is an ambush predator. With it’s large eyes pointing straight forward in the skull, this sight hunter can see about 160 degrees with great depth perception. The skull is small and rounded, with a very short face and the fangs are spaced almost exactly the same distance apart as the average diameter of a deer’s neck. Large and powerful long legs enable this cat to leap great distances, and to spring into action with short bursts of speed. At times, they will drop down from a tree limb or cliff, rake their retractile claws across the face of a deer and deliver a suffocating bite to the prey’s neck.
    The puma does have some color highlights, as the deepest brown is along the back with whitish shades on the underside. The body length head to tail of a large male can reach 8-feet, and the long round tail is black tipped. Adult males weigh 150-220 pounds, and females weigh in at about 80-130 pounds. Frequently used habitat includes mountains and foothills, and cougars will also use other areas with adequate food, cover, and room to roam such as wetlands near adjacent water bodies. These cats are habitat generalists, and extremely adaptable. Their range is the greatest of any large terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere.
    Diet is diverse, and mountain lions will eat insects, grasshoppers, western cottontails, small rodents, snowshoe hare, grouse, raccoons, coyotes, otters, mink, and occasionally snakes. Their main prey is usually whitetail and mule deer, elk, and moose. Pumas will take Bighorn sheep, Mountain goats, and Woodland caribou when available. These large cats are known to kill bobcats and lynx, and each other every so often to eliminate competition for food sources. Predators of cougar may include wolves, although the cats can kill lone wolves also, and black and grizzly bear. The big cats will cache remains of kills by burying them partially, and then pulling and scraping debris over the carcass. Cougars mark territory with scrapes where they urinate and defecate. These felines are generally solitary, except for females accompanied by males or kittens. Females den in caves, rock crevices or brush piles. They may breed anytime, but usually young are born in May, with cubs or kittens in litters of 2-4.
    In Kootenai Country Montana, these cats are out hunting in the night, at dawn, during the day, and dusk, but are seldom seen. It is likely that they have seen us first, and choose to quietly slip away into their mysterious world.
(Author’s Note: Reference-Montana Field Guide, FWP Pub. — See for seasons and regulations.)