Mountain Lion (Felis concolor)
Known colloquially as a cougar, puma, panther, or catamount, the mountain lion (Felis concolor) is basically a smaller jaguar without spots. It is unlikely that you will ever see a mountain lion in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) because they are nocturnal and typically avoid anything besides prey, but it is smart to be informed about predators when visiting. Beware of these indications that you are in mountain lion territory: long scratches on trees, remains of a carcass, piles of dirt or leaves/debris scraped up by back feet, large amounts of scat containing hair or bones, and round paw prints with no claw marks. These signs are often found in areas the mountain lion may return to, especially the carcass.
Mountain lions do not have a set mating season, but they will typically have up to 6 cubs every two years. Newborn cubs weigh just under a pound and have dark spots all over their fur that they outgrow as adults, giving way to pale brown fur with white highlights on their underside and head. Cubs will stay with their mom for about a year and a half or until they can fend for themselves. While hunting, a male mountain lion can travel 25 miles in a day. In the winter, mountain lions might follow other animals (aka their food) and move down to lower elevations. Mountain lions have a lot to eat in GYE including deer, bighorn sheep, birds, porcupines, fish, insects, rodents—sometimes pets and livestock, too.
By the 1920s, predator control in GYE took the lives of thousands of mountain lions until there were less than 15 left. Today, there are about 120 cougars in GYE that are being researched as part of the Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project to learn more about the population, interactions, and habitat of this secretive stalker. They are skilled athletes and can land a jump from 60 ft high even though they weigh about the same as a human—200 lbs. This is one fascinating animal you might be okay missing in GYE!
Written by Celia Karim
PC: Yellowstone National Park on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2fKKuFu