Rare Species Guide

 Puma concolor    (Linnaeus, 1771)

Mountain Lion 

MN Status:
special concern
Federal Status:


(Mouse over a habitat for definition)

Minnesota range map
Map Interpretation
North American range map
Map Interpretation


Felis concolor

  Basis for Listing

The historical distribution of mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, ranged from British Columbia, Canada, to southern Chile and Argentina, and from coast-to-coast in North America (Young and Goldman 1946; Russell 1978). Persecution by humans and changing land uses have restricted their range to relatively unpopulated areas and remote mountainous regions, although isolated populations may exist elsewhere (Currier 1983). Although mountain lions once roamed over most of Minnesota, they were never common. Very few authenticated specimens have been taken from Minnesota in the last century, although periodic sightings are reported, including several by knowledgeable observers (Bue and Stenlund 1953). Because of this, and the fact that this species is particularly sensitive to human disturbance, mountain lions are a species of special concern in Minnesota. However, because there is no evidence of a viable breeding population in Minnesota (Minnesota DNR 2009), mountain lions are not currently tracked in the DNR's Rare Features Database and do not appear on the range map at right.


Mountain lions are basically monotone in color, except for the black tip on their tail (Beier 1999) and on the back of their ears. They range in color from grayish-brown to reddish-brown (Currier 1983; Beier 1999). Their long tail is typically about 1/3 of their body length (Currier 1983) and is usually held close to the ground when walking (Beier 1999). Male mountain lions weigh an average of 62 kg (137 lbs.) and average 200 cm (6.6 ft.) from their nose to the tip of their tail, while females average 42 kg (93 lbs.) and 186 cm (6 ft.) from nose to tip of tail (Beier 1999). Young mountain lions have black spots and rings on their tails. There are no other animals that strongly resemble mountain lions in Minnesota, but their monotone color and long tail distinguish them from other animals, including lynx (Lynx canadensis), bobcat (Lynx rufus) and wolves (Canis lupus). Yellow Labrador retrievers are sometimes mistaken for mountain lions.

Because mountain lions are elusive animals, tracks may be the only things many people see. Their tracks are similar to wolf (or large dog) tracks, but mountain lion tracks are more rounded in shape, and 7.6-8.9 cm (3-3.5 in.) wide and 7.6 cm (3 in.) long. Wolves on the other hand have more elongated prints that average 8.9 cm (3.5 in.) wide and 11.4 cm (4.5 in.) long. Mountain lion tracks don't usually have claw marks, but if present, they are narrower than canid claw marks. Canids do not always leave claw marks. Also, mountain lion toe pads are more tear shaped and small in relation to the size of the heal pad, while canids are more ovate and large in relation to the heal pad. Bobcat and lynx tracks are similar in shape to mountain lions tracks, but bobcat tracks are smaller, and lynx tracks, while similar in size, are less distinct due to the abundant hair on their feet.

While the Minnesota DNR gets about 50 reports of mountain lions sightings each year, most of them turn out to be large house cats or yellow Labrador retrievers.


Mountain lions are found in a wide variety of habitats, as long as there is a sufficient prey base. If present in Minnesota, mountain lions are most likely inhabiting remote, heavily forested areas, although confirmed reports have also come from agricultural areas.

  Biology / Life History

Very little is known about mountain lions in Minnesota, so most of the information on their biology and life history comes from other states. Mountain lions are solitary animals (Russell 1978; Currier 1983), except during the breeding season, during the time females are with young, and when siblings remain together for 2-3 months after they leave their mother (Russell 1978). Female mountain lions reach maturity at 2-3 years (Young and Goldman 1946), and may breed at any time during the year, although there is usually 24 months between births (Beier 1999). A female will give birth to 1-6 cubs after a 90 to 96-day gestation period (Russell 1978; Beier 1999). The cubs are born with spotted pelage, and remain with their mother at the birth site for 40-70 days (Beier 1999). After this time, they leave the area and stay with the mother until they disperse at 10-26 months of age (Beier 1999). Females will disperse 9-140 km (6-87 mi.), and males will disperse 23-274 km (14-170 mi.) (Beier 1999).

The main cause of death to mountain lions in North America is hunting by humans, and the most common cause of accidental death is collision with motor vehicles (Currier 1983). In Florida, 50% of all mountain lion deaths were from vehicle collision from 1979-1990 (Hansen 1992). Other causes of death include injuries from prey, predation as kittens, intraspecific strife, and starvation (Russell 1978; summarized in Currier 1983). Mountain lions are known to live longer than 20 years in captivity, but wild mountain lions may be limited to 8-12 years (Young and Goldman 1946).

Mountain lions live in low numbers (0.9-4.9 per 100 square km; 39 square mi.), and have relatively large home ranges (Beier 1999). Female mountain lions maintain home ranges of 26-350 square km (10-135 square mi.) and males maintain 140-760 square km (54-293 square mi.) (Beier 1999). Male home ranges rarely overlap with those of other males, but they may overlap with several females (Beier 1999). With home ranges this large, large tracks of land must be protected in order to maintain this species.

Mountain lions are active mainly during the night and at dawn and dusk. They hunt by stalking their prey, or by springing from cover when prey is close (Beier 1999). Their main prey items are large hooved animals, but they will also eat a variety of rodents, medium-sized mammals, and carnivores smaller than themselves (Beier 1999; summarized in Currier 1983). Mountain lions also occasionally kill livestock. This habit has contributed to their low numbers, as mountain lions were killed in large numbers to protect livestock and were subject to a bounty until the 1960s (Beier 1999). Since 1970, control efforts have focused on individual animals that kill livestock, although there are several states where cougars are hunted for sport (Beier 1999). Mountain lions are generally elusive and avoid humans, but have been known to attack humans (Beier 1999).

  Conservation / Management

Because of the large home range and dispersal distances of this species, mountain lions are threatened by habitat fragmentation and destruction. In order for mountain lions to persist, wildlife managers must protect large areas of contiguous habitat, minimize barriers, such as roads, maintain prey populations, and conduct long-term population studies (Hansen 1992). Additionally, connectivity should be maintained through habitat corridors, which dispersing mountain lions are known to use (Beier 1999).

  Conservation Efforts in Minnesota

There are continuing reports of mountain lions in Minnesota, but there is no evidence of a viable breeding population in the state (Minnesota DNR 2009). While current numbers of white-tailed deer in Minnesota could provide a sufficient prey base for mountain lions, habitats have become increasingly fragmented and road densities increased since their historical occupation. If breeding populations are ever confirmed, considerations for their survival and management should be made.

Potential management considerations could include ones similar to those outlined for wolves in the Minnesota Wolf Management Plan (Minnesota DNR 2001). Those include: population monitoring, habitat management, enforcement against illegal take, dispensing information, and supporting educational efforts and research (Minnesota DNR 2001). An increasing mountain lion population could lead to livestock depredation. Although there has not been a documented mountain lion-killed livestock in the last quarter of a century, there have been a few injuries reported (J. Hart, U.S. Department of Agriculture, pers. comm.). Anticipating areas where human-predator conflict may arise is important in preventing conflict and gaining support for conservation agendas (Treves et al. 2004). A spatial model for predicting carnivore conflict in Minnesota and Wisconsin was created in 2004 (Treves et al.), and may be a valuable resource for wildlife managers and policy makers as they plan the mountain lion's future in Minnesota.

  References and Additional Information

Beier, P. 1999. Cougar (Puma concolor). Pages 226-228 in D. E. Wilson and S. Ruff, editors. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press in association with the American Society of Mammalogists, Washington.

Bue, G. T., and M. H. Stenlund. 1953. Recent records of the Mountain Lion, Felis concolor, in Minnesota. Journal of Mammalogy 34:390-391.

Currier, P. 1983. Felis concolor. Mammalian Species 200:1-7.

Hansen, L. 1992. Cougar: the American Lion. Northland Publishing, Flagstaff, Arizona. 129 pp.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2001. Minnesota Wolf management plan. Division of Wildlife, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota. 36 pp. + appendices.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2009. Cougar / Mountain Lion. . Accessed 30 September 2009.

Russell, K. R. 1978. Mountain Lion. Pages 207-225 in J. L. Schmidt and D. L. Gilbert, editors. Big game of North America: ecology and management. Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 494 pp.

Treves, A., L. Naughton-Treves, E. Harper, D. J. Mladenoff, R. A. Rose, T. A. Sickley, and A. P. Wydeven. 2004. Predicting human-carnivore conflict: a spatial model derived from 25 years of data on Wolf predation on livestock. Conservation Biology 18:114-125.

Young, S. P., and E. A. Goldman. 1946. The Puma, mysterious American cat. The American Wilderness Institute, Washington D.C. 358 pp.

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