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Montana Field Guides

Mountain Lion - Puma concolor
Other Names:  Catamount, Cougar, Panther, Puma, Mountain Screamer

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status


External Links

State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 09/15/2008
    Population Size

    ScoreE - 2,500-10,000 individuals

    Comment5,707-7,610 adults assuming 3-4 adults per 100 square kilometers with approximately 1/2 of the state being suitable for occupancy at that density.

    Range Extent

    ScoreG - 200,000-2,500,000 km squared (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)

    Comment380502 square kilometers based on Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Area of Occupancy

    ScoreG - 2,000-20,000 km squared (500,000-5,000,000 acres)

    Comment12449 square kilometers based on GAP predicted model.

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)

    CommentPopulations have probably rebounded to within 25% of their pre European arrival levels after declining from hunting and persecution.

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation

    CommentGrowing deer population and ability to live around humans is resulting in a stable to increasing population.


    ScoreG - Slightly threatened. Threats, while recognizable, are of low severity, or affecting only a small portion of the population or area.

    CommentFeline distemper, aids, parvo.

    SeverityLow - Low but nontrivial reduction of species population or reversible degradation or reduction of habitat in area affected, with recovery expected in 10-50 years.

    CommentPopulations are stable or increasing in the face of diseases

    ScopeLow - 5-20% of total population or area affected

    CommentLow percentage of population affected.

    ImmediacyHigh - Threat is operational (happening now) or imminent (within a year).


    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreB - Moderately Vulnerable. Species exhibits moderate age of maturity, frequency of reproduction, and/or fecundity such that populations generally tend to recover from decreases in abundance over a period of several years (on the order of 5-20 years or 2-5 generations); or species has moderate dispersal capability such that extirpated populations generally become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreD - Broad. Generalist. Broad-scale or diverse (general) habitat(s) or abiotic and/or biotic factors are used or required by the species, with all key requirements common in the generalized range of the species in the area of interest. If the preferred food(s) or breeding/nonbreeding microhabitat(s) become unavailable, the species switches to an alternative with no resulting decline in numbers of individuals or number of breeding attempts.


General Description
A large cat with an elongate body, powerful limbs, small head, short face, short rounded ears, long neck and long, round, black-tipped tail. Two color phases: buff, cinnamon, and tawny to cinnamon rufous and ferruginous, and silvery gray to bluish and slaty gray; young are buffy with dark spots, and the eyes are blue for the first few months; color of upperparts is most intense midorsally; sides of muzzle and backs of ears are black; underparts are dull whitish with buff wash across the belly; end of tail is dark brown or blackish; adult total length 171 to 274 cm in males, 150 to 233 cm in females; adult tail length 53 to 81 cm; greatest length of skull 172 to 237 mm in males, 158 to 203 mm in females (Hall 1981, Nowak 1991, and Maehr 1992). Eyes set forward on head for sight hunting. Adult males weigh 150 to 190 lbs., females 70 to 120 lbs. Solitary, except for females accompanied by males or kittens. Females den in caves, rock crevices, brush piles, etc. with kittens and leave them there while hunting; usually hunt by stealth at night and cover unused food for later use. Males territorial, and large male home ranges may overlap smaller ones of females.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Differs from the Jaguarundi in much larger size (maximum total length of Jaguarundi is 137 cm). Differs from the Canada Lynx and Bobcat in having a much longer tail (less than 25 cm in Bobcat and Canada Lynx). Differs from other cats in lack of spotting in adult pelage. Young Mountain Lion differ from the Ocelot in having the spot not arranged in rows or chain-like streaks. See (Hoffmeister 1986) for cranial differences between Mountain Lion and Jaguar.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Montana Distribution

Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 4104

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)


Mostly mountains and foothills, but any habitat with sufficient food, cover and room to avoid humans. In western MT, spring and fall ranges at higher elevation than winter areas. Cover types in winter: 42% pole stands, 30% selectively logged (pole or mature), 18% seral brushfields (Murphy 1983). In eastern MT apparently uses riparian and breaks (Matthews and Swenson 1982).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Deer, Elk, and Porcupine most important in Montana, but may take prey ranging in size from grasshoppers to Moose. In Fish Creek Drainage, White-tailed Deer appeared to be primary food, followed by Elk, Mule Deer, and Snowshoe Hare (Murphy 1983).

Harvest intensity in Fish Creek mostly determine by snow conditions. Road access, hunting pressure and prey base are management concerns. Some areas require more conservative management than others. In Fish Creek: 4.3 adults/100sq km, 7.1 lions/100sq km (Murphy 1983)

Reproductive Characteristics
Breed any time, but young most commonly born in May. Two to four spotted young born about every 2 years per female. Females keep males away from kittens, which may otherwise eat them. Females first breed at 2 to 4 years of age. In Fish Creek Drainage, litters raised at approximately 2 year intervals. Average 2.6 kittens/litter (Murphy 1983).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Hall, E.R. 1981. The mammals of North America, volumes I and II. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY. 1181 pp.
    • Hoffmeister, D.F. 1986. Mammals of Arizona. Univ. Arizona Press and Arizona Game and Fish Dept. 602 pp.
    • Maehr, D.S. and C.T. Moore. 1992. Models of Mass Growth for 3 North American Cougar Populations. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 56(4), 700–707.
    • Matthews, W.L. and J.E. Swenson. 1982. The mammals of east-central Montana. Proc. Mont. Acad. Sci. 39: 1-13.
    • Murphy, K.M. 1983. Relationships between a mountain lion population and hunting pressure in western Montana. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 48 pp.
    • Nowak, R.M. 1991. Walker's mammals of the world. Fifth edition. Volumes I and II. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 1629 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
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