Are Mountain Lions Nocturnal? Where Do Mountain Lions Sleep Anyway?

Written by Jude Speegle
Published: July 5, 2022
Image Credit Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com
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Mountain lions go by many names: cougar, puma, panther, but they are the same animal. The moniker tends to change based on the region, but they are all names for the same animal.

A happy fact about these majestic animals is that they are not on the endangered species list. You might assume it’s getting harder for them to thrive as humanity encroaches further on their territory, but there is plenty of space out there to make their marks. 

Known to be a solitary animal, mountain lions need a lot of space to call their own, which is abundant in certain parts of the country. They prowl around and stalk their prey, living their lives in the same authentic way as any cat.

What Do Mountain Lions Look Like?

Puma, cougar portrait. Mountain lion close up.
Mountain lions are large cats with coat colors that are mostly in shades of brown.

Maja Marjanovic/Shutterstock.com

Mountain lions are nothing more than large cats with the powerful jaws of a master predator. We wouldn’t want to run into any while on a hike or taking out the garbage, that’s for sure.

They come in various colors, depending on their location and heritage. This includes brown, tan, white, and sometimes even black, depending on what part of the world you are in.

Big round eyes with vertical pupils are set in a wideset face with a soft nose that varies from white to black, or maybe even a mix of the two. Their ears are triangle-shaped and pointed, while they have large whiskers for sensing spatial dynamics. Mountain lion paws are larger than a dogs and are usually pretty distinguishable from other animal tracks.

Their fur is thick and coarse, not as soft as housecats. They do groom with their large, sandpaper tongues in the same manner as housecats, though, and purr as well. The mountain lion is an awe-inspiring masterpiece of an animal, weighing up to a massive 220 pounds for the biggest ones, and they average around 75-175 pounds.

Are Mountain Lions Nocturnal?

A mountain lion (Florida panther) drinking from a watering hole
Mountain lions are nocturnal, actively hunting in the dark of night.

iStock.com/Rejean Bedard

A mountain lion’s prime prey of choice is white-tailed deer, and deer are mostly considered crepuscular to nocturnal, so they are active at times that mountain lions are hunting.

Crepuscular means that an animal is active the most at twilight, or dusk, right as the sun sets and the world is receding into the night. Nocturnal means an animal is active mainly at night when the world is quiet, and the moon reigns over the land.

The whole of a mountain lion’s life is focused on survival, day in and day out, centered around catching and consuming their prey. The animals they chase come out at night, so that is when they need to be out as well. 

As a plus, mountain lions can better hide from their prey in the darkness. Their tawny-hued pelts give them an advantage, as they can easily blend into mountainsides or rolling plains of golden grass.

How Do Mountain Lions Hunt in the Night?

puma vs Mountain lion
Mountain lions hunt at night primarily by ambushing their prey.

Scott E Read/Shutterstock.com

A study from the Journal of Mammalogy describes many ways mountain lions spend their nights. Hunting is their primary activity after sleep, so it stands to reason they would spend most of their time stalking prey.

Commonly, a mountain lion would lay in wait for the prey for periods of up to 45 minutes at a time. They would travel a mean of around .8 miles during the process to track their prey and wait for the right time to strike, hopefully not giving up their presence before the plunge.

This activity could continue for six separate instances if they didn’t catch prey immediately, and sometimes they won’t. Once they killed a mammal, they would stop stalking for other animals anywhere from 5 hours to three days, depending on the size of their kill.

If it needs time to be consumed, they would drag it a small way away and bury it in leaves and other debris. This is to keep scavengers from finding and consuming it during the day. Over a period of nights, the mountain lion would snack on its kill until it was wholly consumed. Mountain lions only feed at night.

Mother mountain lions work a little differently, hunting at the beginning of twilight until around midnight. After that, they return to their den, holding their little ones. As the kittens grow older, the mother mountain lion will stay out for longer and longer periods.

This same study says, “On average, an adult mountain lion killed 48 large and 58 small mammals/year and fed for an average of 2.9 days.” This gives plenty of insight into what mountain lions do during the night while we are tucked in our beds.

Where Do Mountain Lions Sleep Anyway?

cougar laying on rock
Mountain lions sleep in any shelter they find as they patrol their territory.

iStock.com/gatito33

We know that our cats like to sleep anywhere they can; the tops of bookshelves, our laps, our pillows, in that patch of sunlight shimmering through the curtain. Cats are even known to shove themselves into boxes and fall into blissful slumber.

When it comes to mountain lions, though, they don’t sleep in dens as many people assume. They also aren’t curling up in any boxes either. Instead, they don’t usually have one set home. Their territories tend to range across 100 miles, and they regularly patrol along the length of it.

Even as mountain lions hunt, they are traversing their territory and keeping their eyes out for others of their kind. They mark their territory with scent, using urine and feces along piles of grass and leaves, so they retain the smell. This helps keep other mountain lions from encroaching on their territory.

The average mountain lion sleeps in makeshift shelters consistently. This could be a cave if they found one, but it includes trees, grass, leaves, anything of the sort. They tend to stay out in the open, keeping themselves ready to pounce on their food or a potential mate or fight.

There you have it; the nocturnal mountain lion makes its nightly home anywhere in the wild as they travel. The answer you should expect from a free-roaming creature such as them.

Mountain lion
Chile, Torres del Paine National Park. Puma sits relaxed in tall grass.
Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

Jude is a writer both by trade and by heart. They have been writing since a very young age and have eight years of professional writing experience. Passionate about animals, Jude has three birds and three cats.

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