Mountain Lion Basic Facts
The mountain lion lives only in the western hemisphere, ranging from northern British Columbia to the southern tip of South America. It is North America's biggest cat. Mountain lions have been reported in South Dakota since, at least, the Custer expedition of 1874, when members of the expedition saw a lion near the head of Castle Creek in the Black Hills and found signs of their presence on several occasions.
Mountain lions sit on the top of the food chain and are capable of preying on anything within their territories. Their natural enemies include other large predators, such as bears and wolves, neither of which are permanent residents of South Dakota anymore. They also fall victim to accidents, disease, other lions, vehicles and people. When the pioneers settled South Dakota, large predators were viewed as a threat to their livelihood and were aggressively persecuted through unregulated hunting and trapping for many years.
CHARACTERISTICS -- Mountain lions are usually tawny to light cinnamon in color with black-tipped ears and tails. Mountain lions vary in size and weight, with the males being larger than the females. Adult males may be more than 8 feet in length, including the tail, and weigh an average of 150 pounds.Adult females may be up to 7 feet in length and weigh an average of 90 pounds. Bobcats, as a comparison, average 30 inches in length and weigh an average of 25 pounds.
MATING AND BREEDING -- Females reproduce when they are about two and a half years old.Courtship begins when a roaming female in heat makes frequent sounds and a scent that attracts males.After locating a female, the male accompanies her for just a few days, at which time the mating occurs.Breeding can take place throughout the year. A mature female will have a litter every two to three years, following a 3-month gestation period. Birth is usually given to two to three young, called cubs. Care of the cubs rests solely on the female, and she will routinely protect them.
Newborns are about one foot long, weigh about one pound, are covered with spots and rings around their tails.The young stir only to nurse until they are about two weeks old, when their eyes open and they become alert and playful. Cubs learn hunting skills through playing and exploring and watching their mother.When the young are about six weeks old, the female will begin taking them to her kills to feed.The cubs are weaned at about two months. As the cubs mature, their spots fade. At six months, the cubs weigh more than 30 pounds and are becoming capable hunters. Cubs remain with their mother for another year, improving their hunting skills.