Can You Find the Camouflaged Mountain Lion in This Viral Photo?

on this photo we can see an elk eating and in the background camouflaged is a lion mountain ready to strike

Written by Maxwell Martinson

Updated: July 18, 2023

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This photograph is a tough one. Are you up to the challenge? Can you find the camouflaged mountain lion in this viral photo?

Few things can get people riled up like a photo with something “hidden”. Everyone likes to think they can easily spot the thing that nobody else seems to see.

This viral image shows the top of an elk’s back. Probably feeding, the elk has its head pointed down and out of frame. Behind the elk, we see New Mexico’s characteristic slabs and chips of rock set against juniper shrubs and small trees.

The vegetation is pretty dense, so it seems as though the elk is alone in nature. But is it?

Why Can’t You See The Camouflaged Mountain Lion?

This photo was taken as part of a monitoring project looking at the success of restoring arroyos at Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge.

Give yourself a few minutes to scan the picture. We promise there really is one. This isn’t one of those tasks meant to waste your time like going to the garage to find a “left-handed shovel” or something.

The mountain lion is there. Hidden in plain view. You’ve definitely seen it already, even if your brain hasn’t recognized it as a big cat.

This picture illuminates the fact that a mountain lion, one of the apex predators of North America, can literally be in your face without you noticing. It’s a terrifying realization, especially if you’re someone who hikes regularly or likes to visit national parks.

The picture takes on a whole new mood when you spot it.

Mountain Lions and Elks: What You Should Know

At first glance, you might be amazed by the image of the elk because, well, they’re notoriously difficult to spot! Elk used to exist throughout most of upper North America, but the bulk of their population now lives along the Rocky Mountain Range.

This is also where mountain lions are most populated, although they’re distributed more widely than elk. Both species share the same environments partially because mountain lions feed on elk.

How are these massive cats able to stalk and surprise elk effectively? They’re extremely well camouflaged. They also happen to be very intelligent.

Mountain lion stares into camera

Mountain lions’ fur provides great camouflage.

The New Mexico environment is an absolutely perfect place for a full-grown mountain lion to hide in plain sight. The color of the rocks matches the lion’s fur, and even the bright points of rock illuminated by the sun share the hue of the lion’s white face.

An elk, which doesn’t see the full spectrum of colors, might have an incredibly difficult time spotting a mountain lion perching in the shadows.

The only reason that someone at the Rio Mora Wildlife Refuge noticed the cat in the first place was the fact that the following trail cam photos caught the cat emerging and following the elk.

Are Mountain Lions Normally so well Camouflaged?

Large cats are great at camouflage because they can remain as silent and still as statues. This skill in combination with the patience that only lions seem to possess can enable them to remain hidden when approached on the ground or on foot. Sometimes hunters will get very close to mountain lions only to be surprised by one springing away. Most times, mountain lions will flee an encounter with a human, and mountain lion attacks are very rare. They may only attack when threatened.

Where Do Mountain Lions Live?

Mountain lions used to mainly occupy the entire U.S. from coast to coast, however, over time that has changed. They are now mostly found in 14 different western states with a small endangered population that still lives in Florida. There are also five small populations that have regained some numbers in the 80s and 90s, but their future remains uncertain.

what do cougars eat

How long do mountain lions live?

In the wild, mountain lions can live anywhere from eight to 13 years old. The young usually stay with their mother for as long as 26 months before moving on. However, it’s more common for them to leave their mother at around 15 months. In the wild, mountain lions’ years are numbered, but in captivity, they can live for up to 21 years old.

Discover the Mountain Lions In Wisconsin! Poster Image

Mountain lion cubs are born with spots and blue eyes.

Fun Facts about Mountain Lions

  • Mountain lions go by more names than any other animal! There are 40 different nicknames including puma, cougar, panther, catamount, painter, mountain screamer, Mexican lion, red lion, ghost cat, and American lion.
  • Mountain lions don’t roar. They chirp, growl, shriek, and even purr!
  • They live in almost every ecosystem in America. From mountain forests to deserts to rain forests – you can know that mountain lions are lurking somewhere nearby.
  • Mountain lion cubs have blue eyes and spots. Like the lions of Africa, baby mountain lions begin life with spots that fade into their signature tawny coats within weeks.

For more interesting information on the mountain lion, check out this! 11 Incredible Mountain Lion Facts.

Here’s Where The Camouflaged Mountain Lion Hides

You can see the mountain lion’s face directly to the left of the short tree on the right side of the frame. Just above the large rock to the immediate right of the elk’s behind.

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Max and I'm a writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I've been freelancing for more than five years and love the freedom and variety that this profession offers. Animals are also a big part of my life, and a lot of my time is dedicated to playing with my cat, Herbie.

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