University of Illinois Extension

Wildlife Directory

Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

Felidae
The mountain lion has many commonly used names including cougar, panther, American lion, and puma.

Description and Identification

Mountain lions have a tan or tawny coat, with white or cream-colored chin, undersides, and inside of legs. The ears are rounded, and the back of the ears are solid black to dark gray. The tail is long (up to half the total body length), thick, and tipped with black. Mountain lions less than a year old have dark brown spots.

  • Average Length: 60 to 95 inches
  • Average Height: 27 to 31 inches at the shoulder
  • Average Weight: 115 to 160 pounds (adult male); 75 to 110 pounds (adult female)

Tracks

Mountain lion tracks are round in shape, typically 3 to 4 inches in length and 3 to 4.5 inches wide. Mountain lions walk with their claws retracted, so if the track has claw marks it is not a mountain lion track. Inexperienced observers often mistake the tracks of coyotes and large dogs as mountain lions.

Animals Often Mistaken for Mountain Lions

Domestic dogs and bobcats (<i>Lynx rufus</i>) are the animals most likely to be misidentified as a mountain lion in Illinois.

Mountain lions are typically very elusive, so most sightings last only a few seconds. Domestic dogs and bobcats (Lynx rufus) are the animals most likely to be misidentified as a mountain lion in Illinois. In addition to their large size, there are several distinguishing features of mountain lions that can help in positively identifying them.

DescriptionMountain LionBobcatDog
Weight (adult) 75 to 240 pounds 10 to 40 pounds 20 to 180 pounds
Length (adult) 60 to 100 inches 30 to 35 inches 25 to 60 inches
Height at shoulder (adult) 27 to 31 inches 20 to 23 inches 10 to 26 inches
Color Solid tan with cream undersides (young have dark spots) Tan with cream undersides; adults and young with dark spots (may not always be visible on adults) Variable fur color
Face Round face; short muzzle Fringe of fur makes face appear rounded; short muzzle Round to long face; elongated muzzle
Ears Erect; Rounded; No ear tufts; Backside of ear dark with no white spot Erect; Tufts make ears appear pointed; backside of ear dark with white spot Erect or floppy; Variable ear shape and color
Inner legs Cream colored; no spots Cream colored; dark spots visible Variable fur color
Tail 21 to 35 inches; carried low with curl at tip 5 to 6.5 inches; carried close to body 3 to 12 inches long; often curved upward
Tracks 3 to 4 inches; no claw marks 2 to 2.5 inches; no claw marks 2 to 3 inches; claw marks

Status in Illinois

Mountain lions were extirpated from Illinois before 1870 and are not protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code. There is no evidence that a resident breeding population of mountain lions exists in Illinois at this time. Dispersing mountain lions are possible in Illinois.

There were three confirmed mountain lions in Illinois between 2002 and 2008. A male mountain lion was killed by a train in Randolph County in 2002. Another male was killed by a bow hunter in Mercer County in 2004. A third male was shot and killed in the Roscoe Village neighborhood in Chicago in April 2008. Although analysis indicates these three animals were genetically similar to mountain lions from South Dakota, their history in the wild is uncertain (i.e., wild dispersing male or escaped captive).

More recently, images taken by trail cameras in Jo Daviess County (September 2012) and in Morgan, Pike and Calhoun County (October and November 2012) were confirmed by IDNR as showing a live mountain lion. Given the long distances typically traveled by mountain lions and the proximity of the counties (especially Calhoun, Morgan and Pike), it is possible that the camera images may show the same mountain lion.

For More Information

Report a Sighting

If you believe you have seen this animal, please report the sighting to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.