The mountain lion is called by many names: cougar, catamount, panther, American ghost, American lion, painter and puma. This is the second largest cat, the jaguar being the largest, that naturally inhabits the United States. Although mountain lions once ranged all over the United States, the loss of habitat has caused it to be absent from many regions.
In Montana, it is unusual to see a mountain lion because they are solitary and need a large territory to live in. They mark territory with scent and scratched trees. The size of mountain lions territorial range may vary between 5 to 25 miles. Males usually have a bigger range. Some females may have over-lapping territory, but they do not spend time together.
Mountain lions will live in a variety of habitats, from wetlands to prairie, to mountain woods. They prefer rocky areas and canyons, but they like to live where food is plentiful. They may eat between 30 to 50 deer in a year's time, or more for a female with kittens.
Kittens may be born at any time of the year. There are usually two to five kittens born. Generally, only one or two kittens will survive to adulthood. They are born weighing less than one pound, but may reach a weight of 90 pounds by the time they are one year old. They are born with spots and bars marking their coats, but these markings disappear at about the age of nine months.
Young cats stay with their mother for two years. They learn the important skills of survival from their mother: stealth, and stalking and hunting prey. The father mountain lion may weigh as much as 200 pounds, and be up to six feet long. Males do nothing to help raise their offspring, and may even kill any kittens they encounter.
The mountain lion primarily hunts at dusk and dawn. They are completely carnivorous, so you won't hear them ordering a side salad to go with dinner, which can range from deer to elk to porcupines. Mountain lions hunt for survival, not for sport. When it kills an animal that is too large to eat in one meal, they will hide its food, loosely buried under leaves and brush, and return to it for several days. You could say that this is the mountain lion version of leftovers.
One of the fastest and most skillful predators in nature, mountain lions can outrun a deer for a short distance. These animals can also jump 18 feet straight up a tree and they are excellent swimmers, even though they hate to be in water. They have been known to attack livestock, but normally mountain lions are very shy and mind their own business.