Learning to Hunt

How do mountain lion (Puma concolor) kittens learn to hunt? Does it come naturally or does mom have to show them the ropes? For mountain lions, both are true. At three weeks old, kittens already exhibit stalk-and-pounce behavior. This is where mom comes in. Her role is to teach her offspring to become proficient hunters.

If you’re a cat, there are a few key things that you need to master in order to become a successful hunter:

First and foremost, you need to be able to identify prey. While mountain lions prey on a variety of species, their primary source of food is deer. After identifying prey, the young mountain lion must learn how to successfully stalk its meal. If they do not learn the art of stealth, then they risk their potential dinner running away from them. Lastly, the young cats need to learn how to capture and dispatch their prey without being injured or killed themselves.

Learning to be a skilled hunter takes time and practice. To aid their offspring in this process, mothers will engage in what is known as “opportunity teaching.” This is a chance for kittens to learn through observation and participation. Mother cats will bring back wounded prey so that their little ones can sharpen their predation skills — skills that are necessary once they’re on their own.

Without their mothers, mountain lion kittens would have a difficult time surviving. Even at a year old, they are still reliant on her for food and for learning the skills necessary to make it as an adult.

Denise Peterson

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