Mountain Lion

 Mountain Lion


Scientific Name: Felis concolor
Classification: Big game
Life Span: A lion's natural life span is about 12-15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.

 

Description:

The short dense fur of Nevada Mountain Lions varies from yellow, to tawny to rusty brown or gray. The underside of the body is white and the tail is tipped in black. The back of the rounded ears and the sides of the nose are also colored black. The young are a similar light brown color, but have brownish-black spots. Mountain Lions have very muscular and powerful shoulders and hindquarters and are exceptionally strong in relation to their weights. Their claws are constructed so that the harder a victim struggles the tighter they grip. The paws are well padded with the back paws smaller than the front. They have 4 toes with 3 distinct lobes present at the base of the pad. Generally claw marks are not visible since their claws are retractable.
They are easily distinguished from other wild cat species in Nevada. Lions are much larger than Bobcats and have a long tail, which may measure one-third of their total length.

Size:

An adult male can stand 30 inches at the shoulder and measure up to eight feet in length from nose to tail. Females are 3-4 inches shorter in height and a foot shorter in length. The tail makes up about one third of the body length. In nevada, the average adult male mountain lion weighs 137 pounds and the average adult female weighs 98 pounds. Males up 180 pounds have been documented but are rare.


Habitat:

Mountain Lions are adapted to a wide variety of habitats and environmental conditions found Nevada. They prefer dense cover or rocky, rugged terrain, but also occur in desert areas. In Nevada, lion habitat is commonly associated with pinyon pine, juniper, and mountain mahogany. Two of the most important components of lion habitat are a source of meat and cover for hunting.

 

Range:

The Mountain Lion, also known as a Cougar, Panther or Puma, exists only in the western hemisphere and is North America's second biggest cat.
The Mountain Lion's habitat ranges from desert, chaparral and badlands to sub alpine mountain and tropical rain forests. In Nevada lions are found in areas of pinion pine, juniper, mountain mahogany, ponderosa pine and mountain brush. Lions generally are most abundant in areas where deer are plentiful. Individual lions range in areas varying in size from 10 to 370 square miles. Females with young kittens use the smallest areas; adult males occupy the largest areas.
Size of the home range depends on the terrain and how much food is available. In Nevada, male home ranges can be as large as 115 square miles. Female ranges are much smaller and average about 25 square miles. Lions may overlap home ranges, but some lions may defend their territory against other mountain lions.

The increasing human population in Nevada has caused Mountain Lions to retreat to more isolated and rugged terrain. This human encroachment has also caused more human interactions with these otherwise secretive animals.
The Mountain Lion is a solitary animal. Adult males usually travel alone. If tracks suggest two or more lions traveling together, it is probably a female with kittens.

 

Natural History:

Mountain Lions are native to Nevada but records indicate that they were rare in the state before 1920. Their numbers apparently increased with the growing deer herds in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Lion populations may have declined in the 1970’s but by the late 1980’s populations were near record highs.

 

Food Habits:

Small mammals such as mice, ground squirrels, rabbits, skunks, and porcupines make up a large part of the Mountain Lion diet. Where abundant, mule deer are the primary prey species. Elk, bighorn sheep and feral horses are also taken by mountain lions. One lion can consume up to thirty pounds of meat at one meal. They often cache their prey or bury it and return to feed on the animal for up to ten days. Grass is apparently a standard part of a lion’s diet. This may serve to reduce parasites in the digestive tract.

Early mornings and evenings are the preferred hunting times for mountain lions and they often use the strategy of ambushing their prey. They wait patiently in thick cover or rock crevices for an animal to approach or they silently stalk their prey. This secretive hunting behavior is followed by a sudden burst of speed, where the prey is taken by surprise.

 

Breeding:

Mountain Lions are capable of breeding at any time of the year. In Nevada, they usually breed every other year, but occasionally every year. Courtship begins when a roaming female in estrus makes frequent sounds and leaves a scent that attracts males. After locating the female, the male accompanies her for just a few days when mating occurs. The peak birth months range from April through July. The gestation period is three months.

Female lions have their first litter as early as 20 months and as late as 36 months old. During the mating season, the female attracts males with her distinguished scream. After she chooses her mate, the two remain together for several days until the female is ready to mate. After a 90-96 day gestation period, 1-6 kittens (usually two or three) are born in a den.

Dens can vary from a shallow cave to an area of dense vegetation providing seclusion and protection. In Nevada, most kittens are born in June and July but can be born in any month of the year. Newborn kittens weigh about one pound, have a spotted coat, and bright blue eyes. The spots disappear after 6-9 months and the eyes turn to a golden color after about 16 months. The kittens begin eating meat at six weeks and by eight weeks, weigh 30 pounds. Sometimes the kittens stay with the female for two years and other times only one year.

 

Status:

Big game mammal. Populations of Mountain Lions are healthy statewide. Mountain Lions are found in all of the major mountain ranges in Nevada. Their overall populations are faring well in the state. They are not threatened or endangered. There are hunting seasons in Nevada with established quotas for Mountain Lions.

Natural enemies include other large predators such as bears, other lions and wolves. They also fall victim to accidents, disease, road hazards and people.

 

Reason for Status:

Mountain Lions typically live in very remote areas which are often quite inaccessible to man, its main predator. The Mountain Lion also has a high reproductive potential which helps it maintain stable numbers.

 

Management & Conservation:

The status of the Mountain Lion in Nevada evolved from that of a "noxious animal" for which a $5 bounty was offered in 1873, to a designation as a big game species in 1965. The change in legal status reflected growing public appreciation and concern for sound Mountain Lion management.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife actively manages Mountain Lions as big game animals. Biologists determine the number of lions that can be taken from a management unit. If and when that number is reached, the season is closed to prevent overharvest.

 

Fun Facts:

Some people view Mountain Lions as detrimental to the deer population in Nevada. In many cases, their hunting activity is actually beneficial to prey animal populations. Mountain Lions often prey on sick or weak animals, and by doing so, remove diseased animals and weaker genes from the breeding population.