Published on February 10, 2013 by Amy
The mountain lion, the second largest cat in the Americas, is a large cat and (apart from its size) is a perfect example of the basic feline type, without any particular specilization. It has spots only while young, with the adult coloration almost completely monochrome, with only slight indication of pattern in the fur. Male mountain lions can reach up to 8 feet in total length and weigh in excess of 220 lbs. Females are smaller, averaging slightly over 6 feet in length and up to 140 lbs.
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Mountain lion kittens are born with a pattern of spots on their fur. This helps them blend into the landscape so that other predators can’t find them. These spots fade away as the cat matures. The original scientific name given to the cat was Felis concolor, which literally means “the cat of one color”. Mountain lions were called the “cat of one color” because adult mountain lions are solid colored and not covered in a pattern of spots or stripes like so many other wild cats are.
The head of the mountain lion is small in relation to the size of the body. Ears are small and rounded; darker colored on the back and tufted with light-colored fur across the front. The face of the mountain lion is quite distinctive. The muzzle is a creamy white color and is framed in a deep, rich brown. The mountain lion has large eyes that are rimmed with black.
The mountain lion’s long, powerful legs allows it to jump extraordinary distances. The large, heavily padded paws are equipped with retractable claws. One of the mountain lion’s best distinguishing characteristics is its long, thick tail. The tail is the same color as the cat’s body and is sometimes tipped in dark brown or black.
People sometimes confuse the bobcat with the mountain lion . Both cats are found in the Americas, but the bobcat is smaller than the mountain lion, usually weighing about 11-19 pounds. The bobcat also has a very short tail. Bobcats are generally not of a solid color like the mountain lion, but are usually spotted. They also have tufts of fur on their ears and have a ruff of fur along the side of the face.
Mountain lions have the broadest distribution of any land mammal in the Western Hemisphere with the exception of humans. The mountain lion’s range extends from Canada down to Patagonia in the tip of South America.
As you might guess, this wide range of land encompasses many different types of habitat. In Canada and the Pacific Northwest, mountain lions can be found in heavily forested areas. In the southwest United States, mountain lions can be found in desert areas, mountainous areas and in scrubby brushlands. The endangered Florida panther can be found in upper dry land areas and low wetland areas. mountain lions can also be found in the tropical jungles of Mexico.
The mountain lion is an animal that is almost completely carnivorous; that is, their diet consists almost entirely of meat. Compared with other carnivores, cats have relatively short digestive tracts. It has been suggested that cats have evolved this way because of their hunting behaviors and need for a light, compact body. Because of their short digestive tracts, mountain lions need a diet that is rich in easily digestible protein and fat.
In general, the most important part of the mountain lion’s diet is deer, but mountain lions are opportunistic feeders. They will feed on other prey if it is readily available or if the deer population is low. Mountain lions also have a wide distribution and live in many different types of habitats, so their diets are dependent on the prey items that are available in their habitat.
In the southwestern United States, mountain lions prey on deer, peccaries, rabbits, marmots, beaver, porcupine, and birds. In the Pacific Northwest, mule deer and elk are the primary prey. In Florida, white-tailed deer and wild hogs are the preferred prey.
Mountain lions are opportunistic and will feed on other prey items if they are abundant or if preferred prey items are scarce. In Idaho, mountain lions feed mainly on mule deer and elk, but also frequently prey on Columbia ground squirrels during the warmer summer months. In Nevada, the mountain lion occasionally augments its diet with wild horses and bighorn sheep . In British Columbia, the snowshoe hare may compose over 25% of the mountain lion’s diet in years of peak abundance.
Mountain lion attacks on humans are unusual, but they have happened. This does not mean that you should live in fear and it definitely does not mean that mountain lions should be wiped out of the area for the safety of humans. What it does mean is that people are now in the mountain lion’s territory. This is where the animal lives, eats, and sleeps. It is important to understand the nature of this cat so that accidents don’t happen.
Attacks may occur because the cat is simply reacting to a stimulus. It sees an object moving and it pounces. This is important to keep in mind, because if a mountain lion sees a person as a human, instead of mistaking it for prey, it will probably leave the person alone. Healthy, wild mountain lions want nothing to do with humans and will usually go out of their way to avoid contact. If people can learn to respect the mountain lion’s habits, they will not need to live in fear. Hopefully, they will also learn to develop an appreciation for this magnificent cat and its important role in the ecosystem.