Mountain Lions In Missouri

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

of sightings reported in Missouri? Some of the sightings turn out to be other animals, and mistaken sightings are rampant.

Dog tracks and dogs themselves are the number one and number two cases of misidentification. Tracks are difficult for most people to distinguish because subtle differences in the details of the tracks distinguish dogs from mountain lions (dog tracks usually show claw marks, where cat tracks rarely do), and dogs can leave tracks larger than mountain lions. Some reports are accompanied by photos and videos, and upon close inspection we find that they are photos of bobcats, coyotes, foxes, house cats and other animals. Even in the western states where thousands of mountain lions are present, bona-fide sightings are rare and misidentification is the rule rather than the exception.

The recent bobcat population expansion in northern Missouri is partly responsible for some mistaken sightings of mountain lions. Many people aren’t familiar with bobcats, and the casual observer may confuse them with mountain lions. Their tracks look similar except for size, and a bobcat can kill an adult-sized deer, hiding the carcass under a pile of leaves or grass like a mountain lion might. Freshly killed deer carcasses have been submitted as evidence, but analysis has revealed bobcat attack rather than mountain lion.

Is that what I think it is?

The mountain lion is a large, slender cat with a small head, small, rounded ears that are not tufted, powerful shoulders and hindquarters, and a cylindrical tail that is long and heavy. The tail has a small dark hook in the end and usually hangs down next to the hind legs. The body fur is short and soft.

The adult mountain lion is distinguished from the bobcat by its large size (total body length of 60 to 102 inches); uniform coloration of grizzled gray or dark brown to buff or light orange; and a tail length of 21 to 35 inches (up to half its body length). A male mountain lion weighs 140 to 160 pounds, while a female weighs 90 to 110 pounds.

Though a popular myth, black panthers do not exist in the wild in North America. A black panther is a melanistic version of a large cat, usually an African leopard or a jaguar. These can sometimes be seen in zoos. Melanistic refers to the unusual black coloration produced by a hereditary, genetic mutation. There has never been a black mountain lion documented anywhere

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