Felis concolor or Puma concolor

Habitat and Physical Characteristics:

The mountain lion, also known as the puma or cougar, can be found throughout much of Mexico, and the western United States and Canada; a small population also hangs on in southern Florida. Males can grow to be as long as 2.5 meters from the nose to the tip of the tail and weigh about 100 kilos; females are about 1.8 meters long and are 60-65 kilos. Its coloration is an even straw color, except for the belly, which is sort of off white, and areas around the muzzle, behind the ears and at the tip of the tail, which are black. It has a small, narrow head, short muscular legs, and wide paws with retractable claws.

The mountain lion's typical environment includes mountainous regions, of course, but they are equally fond of pine forests, lowland tropical forests, plains with high grass, dry brush, swamps, or really anywhere else that provides adequate cover to sneak up on prey. They are extremely territorial, and solitary. A male's territory usually encompasses about 260 square kilometers, while a female's will be 50 - 150 square kilometers. This is not, however, a hard and fast rule - the species spaces itself out in accordance with the amount of food that is available, and mountain lions migrate between winter and summer homes (just like yuppies). They mark the perimeter of their territory by urinating and defecating on tree trunks, then scratching them.

Eating:

The mountain lion is a carnivore, and unless a particularly nasty or grumpy human comes along no other animal considers it to be prey. They feed mainly on deer, but will also hunt moose and caribou, and, in a pinch, mice, muskrat, porcupine, beaver, raccoon, striped skunk, coyote, birds, and even snails and fish. A mountain lion on the prowl will sneak to within about 15 meters of her meal, preferably using cover, dash at it, pounce and land on its back, and break its neck with a violent bite below the base of the skull. The first parts she eats are the eyes - just like your house cat. She has to do this often enough to kill at least 1000 kilos of formerly living matter each year (more if she's pregnant or has kittens).

Social Organization, and Sex:

The only time two adult mountain lions will come together (no pun intended) is to mate. Females are sexually active between 2.5 years of age and 12, males between 3 and 20 years*. Courtship takes place between December and March, but a female can go into heat at any time of the year, making for a very unhappy lioness when it happens at the wrong time. When she is in heat, she yowls incessantly, rubs up against trees or rocks, and basically just can't get her mind out of the gutter. The record for most frequent copulation is 9 times in one hour. Litters range from 1 to 6 kittens, and the mother will make a den (the only time mountain lions do this) and stay with them for 12-18 months. This is also the only time that the female forsakes territory of her own, and squats on land belonging to one of the fathers.

*-The upper end of a mountain lion's life expectancy is 12-15 years for females, and 20-25 years for males.

Interaction with Humans:

It is generally accepted that mountain lions are not especially dangerous to humans. As mentioned earlier, they tend to live in remote areas, but as urban borders rapidly expand throughout California and elsewhere, and as more people catch the fitness bug and take up hiking and mountain climbing, encounters become more common. However, even then it is extraordinarily rare for a mountain lion to attack an adult human - in the last hundred years only 13 fatal attacks were recorded in North America. The best thing you can do if approached by a mountain lion is to stand your ground. Make eye contact, raise your arms above your head, and do anything you can think of to make yourself look bigger. If there are children nearby, they should be picked up by adults and placed on the adults' shoulders. Under no circumstances should you run, expose the back of your neck, or crouch, as all of these movements will make you look more like prey.

Mountain lions used to thrive "from sea to shining sea," and from southern Argentina to Nova Scotia. Throughout much of the last century, many state and local governments offered rewards for proof that a hunter had killed a mountain lion. As a result of this, as well as the expansion of our population, their numbers have dwindled to what they are today, and some groups are considered at risk. In the final analysis, we have to admit that human/mountain lion interaction has been a lot worse for them.

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