Mountain Lions, also known as pumas, panthers, painters, catamounts, and cougars, are the largest wildcat in North America. They are also the largest of the “small cats,” which is the subfamily Felinae. Only three of the “big cats” in the subfamily Pantherinae are larger than mountain lions: tigers, lions, and panthers.
Being “small cats” means that mountain lions can’t roar, but they can purr. They also have a well-known scream, which you can listen to in the “Sounds” section of this page.
As their species name suggests, mountain lions have basically single-color tawny coats, with lighter patches on the muzzle, throat, and belly. Our other two wildcats in this ecosystem, bobcats and Canada lynxes, are easily distinguished from mountain lions by their much smaller size and much shorter tails.
Mountain Lions in this ecosystem
Mountain lions have filled a variety of roles in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Wolves have taken the apex predator role mostly because they hunt in packs. Grizzlies are capable of taking kills away from both wolves and mountain lions.
Although the mountain lion is considered a “species of least concern” by the IUCN, and they are not threatened in this ecosystem, certain subspecies like the Florida panther are classified as endangered in other parts of the country.
Mountain lions can take down prey significantly bigger than they are. In Yellowstone, their preferred prey is elk, but they are perfectly happy eating deer, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, squirrels, and birds. With larger prey, they stalk the animal and then leap onto its back and kill it with a bite to the back of the neck. They are one of the few predators in this area that make a meal out of porcupines, flipping them onto their backs to get at the unprotected bellies.
At the Sanctuary, our mountain lion gets a variety of meats and bones.
BEHAVIOR & Lifespan
In the wild, mountain lions typically live for about 8-10 years.