Mountain Lion

Mountain lions

The mountain lion has more names listed in dictionaries than any other animal in the world! Expanding from the Atlantic to Pacific, the cougar once claimed the most extensive range of any land mammal. This enormous range is why the feline is known to be “the cat of many names”.

Common names for this cat vary in the United States; in the west they are cougar, mountain lion and puma, while the eastern U.S. they are panther, painter and catamount. Native North Americans know the cougar by 25 different names, South Americans use 18 names, and the English leads with 40 different names for the cougar!

Evolution

The mountain lion's ancestral line goes back to a meat eating, tree dwelling mammal called Miacids. It lived between 39-60 million years ago. Around 40 million years ago it split into two groups, one being the “cat-like” group.

The "father" of the cougar was the sabortooth. Though extinct, it left behind cats that continued to evolve. Scientists group them into two main branches; those who roar and those who purr. The largest of the purring cats is the cougar. Though there are many other purring members on this feline branch, the mountain lion itself is so diverse that it contains 26 subspecies scattered across North and South America.

Mountain lions in Nevada

Mountain lions once lived all across America, but now they survive only in 16 western states and Florida.

Mountain lions live throughout the state of Nevada in places where elk and deer are plentiful.  Habitats in Nevada range from pinion pine and juniper forests to mountain brush and river valleys. Astoundingly, these felines can survive in extreme conditions. With Nevada’s dramatically shifting climate and ecosystems it’s impressive how the mountain lion survives here.

Ecological role

Being on top of the food chain means mountain lions have a vital role in maintaining complex interactions within ecosystems. Lions benefit everything from songbirds to rare wildflowers to butterflies.

Mountain lions keep deer alert and on the move.  Sick or weak animals are less able to keep up with the herd.  Those deer that are more wary and connected to the herd will be more likely to survive. Mountain lion predation can strengthen the stability of the food web, creating a healthy population of deer.

Mountain lions have other positive impacts on the environment due to their influence on deer. When mountain lions are present, grazing occurs over a broader area.  Fewer places – including lush streamsides and vernal pools – suffer from over-grazing.  When this occurs, other animals that depend upon the vegetation for food and shelter can be negatively impacted or even starve. Plant communities are important because they decrease the amount of erosion of sediment and dirt into streams. Overgrazing can have an impact on water quality, which can harm fish and amphibian populations.

Habitat

The average home range for a male mountain lion in Nevada is about 115 square miles. Female territories average about 25 square miles.

Mountain lions aren’t as aggressive to one another when there is enough healthy wilderness. The home territories of female mountain lions often overlap with other female lions. Females are more tolerant of other females than male mountain lions are of other males. The territory of a male lion will overlap the territories of several females.

A mountain lion will strongly defend its home range if another lion is attempting to take over. These interactions can result in serious injury and even death. Mountain lions control their own populations.

A mountain lions home range is dependent on the availability of food, as well as the terrain. Because home ranges greatly depend on how plentiful the food is, it is extremely important to protect mountain lion habitat. Being pushed out of a home range due to development means loss of access to abundant food and increased conflict when lions try to find a new territory.

Tools for coexistence

Knowing about mountain lions will help you to keep your neighborhood, pets and livestock safe, and will teach you about how essential mountain lions are to Nevada’s environmental health. Be sure to check out our Friendly Friday blogs for tips and tricks for peaceful coexistence!

The Mountain Lion Blog

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