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How Do Mountain Lions Adapt To Their Environment?

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are native to North America. They can thrive in various landscapes, and to do this, mountain lions have had to adapt to their environment.

Cougars have no natural predators and can live almost anywhere.  They have no fixed breeding season, allowing them to reproduce anytime.  They have excellent sight and hearing, large territories, and live on less water in hot, desert conditions. 

To find out how mountain lions adapted to their surroundings, I wanted to do some research.  If you want to know more, then please read on.

Cougars can be found in North America.  Find out where in this article I wrote

Photo of cougar

How Do Mountain Lions Adapt To Their Environment?

Living in various areas, mountain lions have developed many different behaviors and senses to survive. 


Mountain lions have large eyes. They contain many light-sensitive cells called rods, which enable them to see clearly at night. The rods help them to see their prey before the prey sees them. Extraordinary vision is essential for successful hunting, especially in environments where prey is found less frequently. 

A cougar’s eyes change color as they get older.  A mountain lion is born with piercing blue eyes.  These become yellow when they are around 16 months old. 


Apart from vision, hearing is also an important part of the puma’s senses. Their sensitive ears have developed in a way that they can hear sounds other mammals do not. Combined with their excellent vision, their hearing helps them to locate their prey precisely. Excellent hearing is also a good defense mechanism and can hear danger from far away. 


Powerful jaws enable the mountain lion to kill their prey quickly and effectively. They aim for the neck. In the case of small mammals, the mountain lion instantly breaks it, causing the animal to die quickly.

If biting a large prey such as deer, mountain lions will try to suffocate it if they cannot kill it with one bite. Killing prey, especially those that are larger, have to be done quickly. Animals have a strong survival instinct, and they will fight back, and the mountain lion could get injured by its prey. 

Do you know how mammals use whiskers?  Find out here

Photo of cougar skull

Legs, Paws And Tail

Mountain lions have large, soft paws, which are very helpful in catching prey.  The paws allow them to be quiet when moving so that prey won’t hear them and run away. Their paws are also powerful and have powerful claws. This allows them to climb trees or drag heavy prey to a safe spot. 

They also have a long tail, which enhances balance when jumping and navigating rough rocky terrain. The long tail also gives the mountain lion the ability to change direction swiftly while chasing prey without falling over. 

Cougars have strong, muscular back legs that are longer than their front legs. Their legs enable them to jump very high up to about 18 feet (5.49 m). It also enables them to launch swiftly and quietly. As a species that stalks its prey from ambush, their legs are important for successful hunting. 

The evolution of the cougar is fascinating.  Find out more here


Mountain lions can breed at almost any time of the year. Breeding season varies in different locations. This allows the mountain lion to use natural resources, food, and water availability to increase young pumas’ chances to reach adulthood. 

Females that are physically ready to reproduce will not do so if they do not possess adequate territory. Having a safe and well-known place for hunting and nursing also increases the survival rate of cubs.

How Do Mountain Lions Survive In Mountains?

In North America, mountain lions can be found in different mountain ranges. You may be able to see them in higher parts of the Rocky Mountains and other places with similar geographical features. 

Mountain terrain has two of the most important features for cougars, prey and cover. In the mountains, cougars feed mainly on deer. Mountains also provide water and vegetation that deer feed on. Mountains make the perfect hunting ground for cougars, with woods providing excellent hiding places. 

Photo of cougar

Mountain lions stalk their prey, and to do that successfully, the terrain has to provide cover. Mountains offer woods, bushes, all kinds of thick vegetation, and higher up the mountains, there are rocks and cliffs. 

Hunting for deer is very important, especially for cougars with young cubs. The energy used to catch a deer can be restored after feeding.  The food will also provide energy to produce milk for her cubs.

Cougars also hunt smaller mammals like rabbits. This is not as energy efficient as hunting for deer, especially for a nursing cougar, so mountains are excellent habitats for finding larger prey. 

Cougars live alone except for the few days when mating. They hold large territories, sometimes more than 500 square miles per animal. These large territories enable them to follow their prey as deer move to feed. 

Knowing their territory is important to a cougar. They learn about the best hiding places and where to find prey. The size of the cougar’s territory depends on the amount of prey in the area. 

Territories of different cougars can overlap. This happens quite often in places with a higher number of cougars. Sharing parts of their territories enable them to focus more on hunting and conserving energy than fighting over territory. The exception to this is the mating season. 

No matter which territory they choose, mountain lions will always try to be away from human settlements in remote and secluded areas. 

Mountain lions can often be found in “transition” areas. These are places where woods mix with rocky areas or where bushes meet the river. These areas give the cougar the ability to hide more efficiently when stalking. Research has shown that the shape and thickness of vegetation are more important than the type of vegetation. 

Mountains provide a huge selection of potential dens where female cougars can give birth to their cubs. These areas have to be hidden from danger and hard to access for other animals. A safe den is essential in the first few days after birth. 

Cougars do not have permanent dens when they have no cubs. When cubs are about 5 months old, they start roaming around the territory with their mother. 

Many mammals are carnivores.  Find out more here

How Do Cougars Survive In The Desert? 

At first sight, deserts seem like lifeless environments. It is hard to believe that a big cat can survive in those places, but cougars are so adaptable that deserts are actually a perfect place to find them. 

Although prey and water are harder to find, desert topography provides excellent areas for hiding and stalking. Their coat color blends in perfectly with most desert habitats.  Rocks and canyons provide shelter and enable the cougar to stand on higher ground to observe and ambush their prey. 

Mountain lions are not picky eaters. Cougars will hunt for almost anything, including rodents, which can be found in the desert. 

Cougars eat sheep, porcupines, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mountain goats, caribou, and sometimes even birds.

Deserts offer caves, holes, and cavities that cougars can use as dens. Research has shown that cougars adapted to desert conditions can survive on less water than those in mountainous regions. 

In the desert, pumas will look for a water source. These places will also attract other animal species where cougars will hunt them. Shortage of water forces different mammals to go to the same watering holes. Cougars will patiently wait in cover and attack when ready. In the desert, cougars will feed on smaller prey and will hunt more frequently. 

Mountain lions are mostly nocturnal animals.  During the day, they will hide from the sun to avoid possible dehydration.

Prey is scattered widely in deserts, so the size of a cougar’s territory will be larger. Mountain lions have to patrol and cover larger distances to find locations with a higher number of potential prey. Territories in the desert can overlap with more than one mountain lion.


Not many species can survive in harsh habitats, but the evolution of their senses and anatomy makes the mountain lion an extraordinary predator.

Cougars can be found wherever prey is.  Not having permanent dens shows how adaptable these animals are, even when having cubs just a few months old. 

Cougars can really thrive in various locations. Most animals live in fixed habitats.  Some live in forests, some in plains, but most can barely survive outside those locations. 

Mountain lions developed certain adaptations and skills that enable them to live in all kinds of places. Cougars live on the coast, and some live in swamps. 

Cougars have no natural predators and this allows them to live almost anywhere in North America.

Ever wondered how cougars hunt?  Find out here


Bernhard Grzimek, Schlager, N., Olendorf, D. and American (2003). Grzimek’s animal life encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale.

Busch, R.H. (2004). The Cougar Almanac. Lyons Press.

Wilson, D.E. (1999). The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Washington: Smithsonian Inst. Press.

Nowak, R.M. and Walker, E.P. (1991). Walker’s mammals of the world. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.