- Mountain Lion - Behavior
The following topics are covered in this section:
- Reproduction and Longivity
- Predatory behavior
- Scavenging Behavior
- Behavior with Kill
Mountain Lions are shy, elusive and solitary animals. They are mostly active during dawn, dusk and at night time and avoid people and areas with human activities.
Mountain Lions are solitary animals that establish territories which they mark and guard.
- Males establish larger territories than females and a male’s territory may overlap that of several females. Territories range from 40 to 80 square miles (100 - 200 sq km) for males and 20 to 30 square miles (50 - 80 sq km) for females.
- A male’s home range only rarely overlaps that of another male but female’s home range may overlap another female’s. In fact, it is common for females within an area to be related as daughters establish their home range adjacent to that of their mother’s and share portions of it.
- Females will disperse based on Mountain Lion density. Female subadults will move long distances until finding an unoccupied area or will displace another female from her territory.
- Females will decrease their territory size when they give birth and slowly increase it again as the cubs become old enough to accompany them.
- When a Mountain Lion establishes a territory s/he is referred to as “resident”. When a Mountain Lion is killed, his/her territory is now open to any Mountain Lion in search of a new home and is known as a “transient”. Many times this causes an increase in the number of Mountain Lions in that area, as dispersing subadults – transients, are in search of their own territory.
Reproduction and Longevity
Mountain Lions are polygamous, males mating with several females and females with several males. Generally, a female will mate with the male whose territory overlaps hers although she may also mate with other males she encounters during her estrus period.
Mountain Lions are solitary and males and females are seen together only during the 3 - 10 days of mating when the female becomes sexually receptive. The male will copulate with a female many times during that timeframe and then he will return to his solitary lifestyle.
Male Mountain Lions reach sexual maturity between 1 and 2.5 years of age and females between 1.5 and 2 years of age. A female establishes a territory before becoming sexually receptive.
Mating can occur any time of the year, however, most litters are produced from July through September. Mountain Lions give birth at 1.5 to 2-year intervals but if a female loses a litter she will enter estrus soon after.
The gestation period (pregnancy) is approximately 90 days and a litter can range from 1 to 4 cubs however, litter sizes of 2 and 3 cubs are most common. Female Mountain Lions take care of their cubs by themselves from birth until dispersal of cubs at age 12 - 24 months.
Mountain Lions can live up to 13 years in the wild and 19 years in captivity.
The main diet of Mountain Lions in Texas is deer, specifically white-tailed deer in Southern Texas and mule deer in Western Texas. It is estimated that a Mountain Lion will consume between 19 and 40 deer per year.
Other prey species included in the Mountain Lion’s diet in Texas are collared peccaries (javelinas), feral hogs, porcupines and jackrabbits. Prey such as these are important buffer species and their presence in the ecosystem decreases the number of deer (and other large prey species) a Mountain Lion kills.
An important role of Mountain Lions is to regulate wild populations of deer and other prey species by not allowing the prey species to overpopulate. A direct result of Mountain Lion absence is the overpopulation of deer which causes overgrazing and habitat exploitation**.
** If not addressed, overpopulation of deer may result in hundreds of deer dying of starvation due to unavailability of food (see "Top-down Regulation of Ecosystems by Large Carnivores".)
A female Mountain Lion with dependent cubs will hunt and bring the hunted animal to feed her cubs. At 6 months of age the cubs will begin to accompany their mother to kill sites and later will accompany her on hunts, learning hunting skills and techniques and prey choice.
Mountain Lions are ambush predators that require cover to stalk their prey. They are opportunistic hunters and will take advantage of circumstances. They approach their kill slowly while trying to remain unseen as they move quietly toward their prey. They usually rely on vegetation for cover and as a result they will hunt those species that use similar habitat.
The Mountain Lion remains alert to any movement, odor or sound and, when at approximately 50 feet, runs or bounds forward attacking the prey from the back or side. The most common form of attack is to grasp the neck and shoulders with its front paws and claws followed by a deadly bite to the neck. Large prey such as deer will often fall to the ground during such a forceful attack.
Mountain Lions are excellent jumpers and have been documented to leap horizontally 40 to 47 feet (12.2 - 14.3 m) and 10 to 18 feet (3 - 5.5 m) vertically.
Source: © Corbis
Mountain Lions are able to hunt a diversity of prey sizes from rabbits to moose. In Texas Mountain Lions are relatively smaller than those found in the northern and southern ranges (Canada and Argentina for example) and their main prey species are deer and smaller mammals. Mammals tend to increase in size as populations move farther from the equator and north and south latitudes increase (Bergmann's Rule). The larger the Mountain Lions, the more able s/he is to hunt bigger prey.
Mountain Lions are also known to scavenge; therefore, signs of a Mountain Lion on a carcass do not automatically mean a Mountain Lion attack caused the animal's death. A more detailed examination (e.g., broken neck, punctured skull, etc.) is needed to determine the cause of the prey animal ’s death.
Behavior with Kill
After making a kill, the Mountain Lion will usually drag the kill to a protected area and feed on the shoulder and upper abdomen areas first. If cubs are present, they will feed on soft tissues before continuing to consume other body parts.
After feeding, Mountain Lions separate the internal organs from the main carcass and hide them at a distance before covering both with branches, soil, and leaves. Mountain Lions do not dig holes in order to bury their kills. They will behave with carcasses they scavenge on in the same way they behave with a kill.
Mountain Lions will return to the kill repeatedly until the meat is gone or, especially during the summer, until the meat has spoiled, at which time they will hunt again. As long as the meat is fresh, a Mountain Lion is taken out of the hunting cycle and will not kill. It is unclear how many and how often a Mountain Lion may kill large and small prey. Being opportunistic, Mountain Lions are able to switch their prey based on abundance and availability.
More research is required regarding predator-prey relationship in Texas to better understand the influence Mountain Lions may have on deer populations as well as other prey species such as wild hogs.