Big Sky Wildlife Spotlight: Mountain Lions

Mountain Lions are adaptable, stealthy, and solitary creatures. These elusive cats are rarely seen, but they are certainly present in the mountains around Big Sky. These predators used to range from Canada to the end of South America.

Today it is estimated that roughly 30,000 mountain lions live in the mountains of the western US. Montana FWP estimates that 5700 potentially live in Montana. Have you seen a lion in Montana?

Mountain Lion | Photo: Pixabay
Mountain Lion | Photo: Pixabay

Let's take a look at some interesting facts about Mountain Lions:

  • The scientific name for a mountain lion is Puma concolor.
  • Mountain lions are often called cougars or pumas.
  • Females weigh 85 to 120 pounds. Males weigh 120-180 pounds.
  • They may measure 7 to 8 feet from nose to tail and stand 2 to 3 feet at shoulder.
  • Lions typically live 8 to 10 years in the wild.
  • Lion tracks measure roughly 3". They have a bi-lobed main pad with four teardrop shaped toes.
  • Lions can bound 40 feet while running, leap 15 feet up into a tree, climb a 12 foot fence, and sprint up to 50 mph!
  • Females breed at two years, after they establish their territory.
  • Lion gestation is 92 days and they give birth every two years.
  • Most litters consist of 2-4 kittens that are born in warmer months. Litter mates will travel together for several months.
  • Babies are called kittens or cubs. They usually have spots for 1 year. They are a tawny color as adult.

Lion Cubs | Photo: Pixabay
Lion Cubs | Photo: Pixabay

  • Lions were classified as a game animal in Montana in 1971. Lions can be hunted from September to April.
  • They primarily prey on elk and deer. But will also prey on other animals - including porcupine.
  • Lions silently stalk and ambush their prey when they have the opportunity to pounce.
  • Lions can be seen any time, but are most active at dusk and dawn. A physical adaptation allows them to see at night.
  • Adults leave "scrapes" along their territorial boundaries. Scrapes are "a four to six inch mound of dirt and forest litter pulled together where the cat deposits urine and dung" used to mark their area (FWP).
  • Male lions have a range of roughly 100 square miles. Females have a range of about 50 square miles. Sub-adults are often transient until they find unoccupied territories.

When you play in the mountains around Big Sky, you are in mountain lion country. Follow the same rules you would in bear country - do not hike alone. Keep kids and pets close by. Carry bear spray. Make noise and be aware.

Mountain Lion | Photo: Pixabay
Mountain Lion | Photo: Pixabay

Most people will never see a mountain lion. Human encounters are rare in Montana. Visit Montana Fish, Wildlife , & Parks to find out what to do in the event of a lion encounter. If you are attacked by a mountain lion, use bear spray as a deterrent. Try to remain standing, face the animal, and fight back. It is legal to kill a mountain lion with a firearm in self defense in Montana, but you must report it within 72 hours.

It sounds scary, but don't worry too much. You have a better chance of being struck by lighting than of being attacked by a mountain lion.

If you capture a photo of a mountain lion be sure to share it on social media with #visitbigsky.

See Also:

Learn more interesting facts about mountain lions from these sources: