What We Know About Mountain Lions
Much of Colorado, including the Front Range, is home to mountain lions. These powerful predators, also known as cougars, panthers, and pumas, are a crucial part of the state’s ecosystem, preying on deer. Mountain lions can be dangerous, but with a better understanding of their behavior and habitat, we can peacefully coexist with them.
The mountain lion exists only in the Western Hemisphere and is one of North America's biggest cats. In Colorado,the projected statewide population size of independent lions (not including kittens) is around 3,800-4,400. A lion's natural life span is about 12 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. Lions are very powerful and usually kill large animals, such as deer and elk. Natural enemies include other large predators such as bears, other lions, and wolves. They also fall victim to accidents, disease, road hazards and people.
Once considered pests, mountain lions gained respect as a big game species in 1965, reflecting public appreciation for proper lion management. Since then, lion numbers in the state have increased by all measures available to CPW because of management as a regulated big-game species.
The lion's scientific name, Puma concolor, means "cat of one color." Mountain lions in this area are usually tawny to light cinnamon in color with black-tipped ears and tail.
Mountain lions are easily distinguished from other wild cat species in Colorado. Lions are much larger than lynx or bobcats and have a long tail, which may measure one-third of their total length.
Adult males may be more than eight feet in length and weigh an average of 150 pounds. Adult females may be up to seven feet long and weigh an average of 90 pounds.
The mountain lion's habitat ranges from desert, chaparral, and badland breaks to subalpine mountains and tropical rainforests.
In Colorado, lions are found in areas of piñon pine, juniper, mountain mahogany, ponderosa pine, and oak brush. Lions generally are most abundant in areas with plentiful deer.
Lions have different home range sizes, from 10 to 370 square miles, with females and young kittens using the smallest areas and adult males occupying the largest. The size of their territory is influenced by the terrain and food availability. Male lions mark their home range boundaries with scrapes—piles of dirt and twigs—to communicate occupancy to other lions.
Hunting and Feeding Habits
Mountain lions are most active from dusk to dawn, although they travel and hunt in daylight.
They prefer deer but also hunt elk, porcupines, small mammals, livestock, and domestic animals.
Mountain lions stalk prey and attack with a rush, often from behind. Their powerful bite crushes the windpipe of their prey or breaks the neck during a kill.
Mountain lions drag the carcass to a sheltered spot, covering it with dirt, leaves, or snow. They may return to feed on it over the course of a few days. Generally, they move the carcass and re-cover it after each feeding.
When they are feeding, mountain lions can be dangerous to people.
Mountain lions that have been fed by people or appear "tame" may unexpectedly become aggressive.
Mating and Breeding
Female mountain lions generally reproduce when they are at least 2 1/2 years old.
Courtship begins when a roaming female in heat makes distinct sounds and leaves a scent that attracts males. After locating the female, the male accompanies her for just a few days when mating occurs.
Breeding can take place throughout the year, but most females give birth between April and July, following a three-month gestation period.
Birth to Maturity
The female gives birth to an average of two to three young, called kittens. Care of the kittens rests solely with the female. She defends them vigorously against male lions, which may kill them.
Newborn kittens are about one foot long and weigh about one pound. They are covered with blackish-brown spots and have dark rings around their short tails. Weaning occurs at about two months.
Kittens learn hunting skills through play and exploration, and by watching their mother.
Kittens’ spots fade as they mature. By six months, they weigh over 30 pounds and are capable hunters. They remain with their mother until about 14-16 months of age, improving their hunting skills.