Mountain Lion

Puma concolor
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Felidae (cats) in the order Carnivora

Description

A very large, slender cat with a small head, small rounded ears that are not tufted, very powerful shoulders and hindquarters, and a long, heavy, cylindrical tail. The coloration in adults is uniform. Upperparts are grizzled gray or dark brown to buff, cinnamon tawny, or rufous. Underparts are dull whitish overlaid with buff across the abdomen. The sides of the muzzle are black, and the chin and throat are white. The last two to three inches of the tail are black.

Similar species: Bobcats are smaller, with short tails, and the back and sides are yellowish to reddish brown streaked and spotted with black (not uniform in coloration).

Many mountain lion sightings in our state turn out to be cases of mistaken identity, but photos, tracks, hair, scat, and videos are some types of physical evidence used to confirm the presence of a mountain lion.

Size

Total length: 5–8½ feet; tail length: 21–37½ inches; weight: 79–265 pounds (male), 64–141 pounds (female).

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Closeup of mountain lion face
Confirming Mountain Lion Sightings

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Photo of a dead mountain lion lying on the tailgate of a pickup truck.
Mountain Lion Hit by Car
This mountain lion was struck by a car in May 2015, in Laclede County, on I-44 near the Gasconade River.

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Photo of a mountain lion’s forepaw with a human hand next to it for scale.
Mountain Lion Paw
Mountain lion paws are much larger than those of any other felines in our state.

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Photo of a dead mountain lion’s forepaw held up by a person’s hand, with thumb c
Mountain Lion Paw
Mountain lion paws are similar to those of other cats in that the claws are retractable.

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Mountain Lion
Mountain Lion

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Mountain Lion Paw
Mountain Lion Paw
This photo of the Reynolds County mountain lion's paw shows how the shape of the large rear pad differs from that of a dog.

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Grundy County Mountain Lion
Grundy County Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion

mountain lion climbing a tree
Audio of a mountain lion.
Habitat and conservation

Mountain lions prefer vegetative cover or rocky, rugged terrain, generally in areas of low human habitation. They have no special home; they merely seek shelter in rocky crevices, hollow trees or logs, holes in banks, or tall grass or underbrush. They are generally nocturnal but may be active during the day. They readily climb trees to obtain food or escape pursuit. The individuals found in Missouri are probably wanderers from states to the west of Missouri. They are occasionally hit by cars.

Foods

Deer is a favorite food, but mountain lions also take smaller mammals including rabbits, beavers, opossums, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, other cougars, domestic cattle, and sheep. The take of deer is not wanton but related to their needs and the deer population. Mountain lions typically focus on prey individuals that are sick or already injured. One mountain lion may take about 35 deer a year.

Distribution in Missouri

Officially extirpated, since there is no evidence of a breeding population, but there have been confirmed sightings scattered statewide, as far east as Lewis, Madison, Warren, Wayne, and St. Louis counties. View map of confirmed sightings.

Status

MDC has confirmed numerous mountain lions in Missouri since we began keeping records in. Those animals apparently migrated here from western states. Young males typically leave their birth areas seeking territories of their own and often wander hundreds of miles. So far, MDC has no evidence of mountain lions establishing a breeding population within our state.

Life cycle

It’s rare for a female to breed before 2½ and 3 years of age; thereafter she usually has young at 2-year intervals. Gestation lasts 90–96 days. Young can be born in any month, but the peak is in July. There are usually 2–3 kittens per litter. The kittens are buffy spotted with black. They begin accompanying their mother on hunting trips at about 2 months of age and often stay with her for 2 years. Young males often travel hundreds of miles as they disperse to find new territories.

Human connections

There is little value for mountain lion fur, though some pelts are used for rugs or wall hangings. The meat is edible. Because this species is listed as extirpated in our state, mountain lions may only be killed if they are attacking livestock, domestic animals, or humans.

Ecosystem connections

In pristine times, the mountain lion and other large carnivores served as a natural check on deer and other prey species. Today, humans control the deer herd, so the natural role of this big cat is gone. However, having this species as part of our natural fauna would add to our wealth of wildlife.

Signs & Tracks

Front and hind tracks:

  • 3 inches long
  • 4 toes
  • Claws normally do not show
  • Overall shape is round.

Other notes:

  • The mountain lion is rare in Missouri, having been extirpated since the 1920s; occasional individuals wander here from other states.
  • There are 3 lobes at the bottom of the heel pad. (Dogs and coyotes have a single indent at the bottom of their pads.)
  • Each track is fairly assymetrical. (Tracks of dogs and their relatives are symmetrical.)
  • The toes are rather teardrop-shaped. (Dog and bobcat toes are oval.)
  • Tracks are 2¾ to 3¾ inches wide. (Bobcat tracks are much smaller, less than 2 inches wide. Even six-month-old mountain lion kittens leave bigger tracks.)
  • Distance between strides is 20 inches (walking).
  • Claw marks usually are not present. (Dogs and coyotes usually leave claw marks. The claw marks left by dogs are blunt and flat. In the rare cases where mountain lions leave them, the claw marks are slender and sharp.)
  • Tracks are like those of an enormous housecat.

More about identifying mountain lion tracks.

Illustration of mountain lion tracks