What is the Difference between Cougar, Puma and Mountain Lion?

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It is no surprise that the cougar holds the world record for having the most names associated with it. The cat is referred to by many names. The question on the limelight on this piece is what’s the difference between cougar, puma and mountain lion. There is no difference between these animals, and they are the same species referred to by different names in different regions.

The cougar is a large felid from the subfamily Felinae. It is widely spread across the world, collecting names like puma, panther, mountain cat and catamount in their various habitats. This species occurs in most habitats in America, the reason being it easily adapts to the surrounding environment.

The Naming of the Cougar

The cougar boasts of at least forty names in the English language only. It currently holds the Guinness world record of the animal with the most names. The names are derived from descriptive words, then later translated to English by scientists and researchers.

In Latin America and parts of America, this species is commonly referred to as the puma. The name puma is also common in parts of the United States. This name dates back to 1777 when it was translated from the Spanish language, meaning powerful, which is right in regards to the genetics of this animal.

Parts of the USA and Canada use mountain lions while referring to the cougar. The panther, painter and catamount are just a few examples of other names used to refer to this cat. All these names refer to one species, the cougar.

Characteristics of the Cougar

What is the Size of a Cougar?

The cougar is the 4th largest species in the cat world. Its shoulder height for adults is between 60-90cm for both males and females. Adult males are larger than their female counterparts, and they average a length of 2.4 meters from their nose to tail tip. Females, on the other hand, have a range of approximately 2.05 meters, the tail accounting for 63-95 cm.

In matters concerning its weight, males weigh 53-100kg; on average, the weight is 68 kilograms. The female weighs between 29-64kg, their average weight being 13kg less than the males. Their overall size tends to rely on their closeness to the equator, as research claims. Cougars close to the equator are smaller in size than those near the poles.

How Does the Mountain Lion Look Like?

A cougar’s head is erect, and graced by erect ears. Just like most members of the wild cat family, it is a powerful animal with enormous capabilities from its fore body parts. The jaws and neck sum up a strong head for this species, this body formation allows the species to grasp on large prey when predating.

Its front paws consist of five retractable claws while its hind limbs have four of these claws. The claw’s primary purpose is for clutching onto its prey. However, the species can retract its claws to gain more velocity, giving it short sprinting capabilities of up to 80km/h. Its flexible spine allows the animal to maneuver through its habitat and swiftly change directions.

The cougar has a solid, tan colored coating on its fur. In warm areas, the animals appear to have a darker and more reddish-brown color. This changes in the ones that inhabit colder regions, as they adapt to the cold by developing thicker coats with longer greyish hairs. Their cubs are spotted, and the spots fade away as it grows older.

In our article The Difference between Cougar and Bobcat, we have outlined more distinguishing features.

The Habitat of Cougars

Due to its adaptability features in almost any environment, the cougar is spread out across America. The possibility of spotting one in the dense forests is equivalent to sighting one on the mountainous deserts of America.

They prefer rocky and densely bushed regions to ease their hunting approach. Currently, the cougar ranges across most western American states and various Canadian provinces. There are claims of its existence in Eastern North America; these claims are as a result of DNA findings and not physical sightings as it was declared extinct in the region.

In most of its habitats, its population faces a declining trend. When I last checked, they were less than 50,000, according to IUCN. States like California placed protection measures for this species, their population being 4,000 to 6,000.

What Behaviors Does the Cougar Show?

No animal is known to prey on the cougar, except for humans. Conflicts with other predators while in competition for food is the most likely scenario in which another animal may kill it. The most common competitor for prey is the gray wolf, as they share most habitats and preferences in diet selection.

In the southern regions, the cougar is known to share habitats with the jaguar, which is more prominent. The cougar is capable of taking down prey weighing over 500kgs, and this means that it can kill large animals. However, in the presence of jaguars in their habitat, they tend to exploit medium-sized and small prey—the main reason being to avoid direct competition between the two cats.

Despite its size, this species is not categorized as one of the big cats. Its inability to roar being the main reason as to why it is excluded. Most cats have specialized larynx and hyoid apparatus that give them roaring abilities, and these features lack in the cougar. Instead of roars, this species purrs and produces low pitched growls similar to domestic cats. Their screams are often confused with human or other animal calls.

What Does a Mountain Lion Feed on?

The cougar is a carnivore, and it will eat any animal it can chase down from small insects to large ungulates. Their robust nature allows them to take down animals twice their weight. It is an obligate carnivore, and for it to survive, it needs nutrients only found in other animal’s flesh.

Despite its capability of fast short sprints, the cougar is more of an ambush predator. It stalks in stealth behind bushes and the vegetation, its prey in sight. Then when close, delivers a mighty leap onto the animal followed by its signature killing move, a terrific neck bite. Within a matter of seconds, the prey suffocates, and life escapes it. One sharp neck bite of a cougar immediately incapacitates its victim.

The cougar kills an estimate of one massive kill every two weeks. This period shortens to three days when the female has cubs to look after. After a kill, the animal drags the prey to a secluded area and covers it. It then leaves the meat there and only returns when it needs to feed once in a while.


When it comes to the reproduction of this species, females attain sexual maturity when 1½-3 years old. It experiences a 23-day estrous cycle for nine days. The gestation period is 91 days, and the female can reproduce up to six cubs at once. The group of newborns cougars is known as a litter.

The responsibility of the cubs falls only to the female as the male leaves after copulation. The calves are born blind, hence entirely dependent on the mother for protection. In the first weeks after being born, they are hidden in caves and under dense vegetation as protection from predation. The survival rate of these calves is one calf in a litter. A litter can contain up to six cubs, however twins are the most common.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Cougars Dangerous?

This species is an apex predator, so yes, they are considered to be extremely dangerous. Despite their nature, cougars are reluctant to attack humans and only do so if they feel threatened. In case you find yourself in a one on one encounter with this species, intense eye contact and loud but calm shouting might result in the animal retaliating.

Their mighty neck bite is their signature move, and you can use sticks and rocks to free yourself from its grip. Children are most susceptible to cougar attacks, and their chances of survival are the least.

Can Cougars be Domesticated?

Yes, the cougar can be domesticated. An excellent example of a domesticated cougar are those found in zoos. Their domestication makes them more comfortable around humans, and some are even used as protection from other predators that prey on humans. It is essential always to remember that these animals are still wild. Be cautious whenever close to them as they are unpredictable.

Do Cougars Need Protection?

Yes, these animals do need to be protected. Did you know that three of the subspecies of the cougars are close to extinction? This finding has led to the protection of this species in some areas. The species close to extinction are the Florida panther, the eastern puma, and the Costa Rican puma.

The main reason for the killing of these animals is their predation on farm animals, which irritates most farmers and motivates them to take down several of this species every year.


There is no difference between the cougar, puma, and mountain lion. They are one species who share the same characteristics and features. The names associated with this species cannot be exhausted; it is truly one of its kind in the cat family.

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