Have you ever spotted a mountain lion in your country or state? Or have you mistaken it for a cougar? Whatever you call it – mountain lion, cougar, puma, catamount, or painter – it all points to one species, the mountain lion (Puma concolor). Although they are essentially the same animal, the cougar and mountain lion might differ slightly depending on their environment.
The term “cougar” is more frequently used in South America, whereas “mountain lion” is more prevalent in North and Central America. You might hear a variety of titles used to refer to America’s big cat, depending on where you reside or what you are watching. But if you live in Michigan, you’ll most likely hear the term “mountain lion” – that is, if you ever see one. This poses the question: are there mountain lions in Michigan? This article addresses everything you need to know about mountain lions in Michigan and many interesting facts.
Are There Mountain Lions in Michigan?
Michigan used to have an ample population of mountain lions, but due to unsustainable hunting, conflicts with livestock, and habitat destruction, they have vanished from the state. However, recent years have shown several sightings in the state that may suggest the big cat species might have a small population or their population might go back to normal in a few years.
Before the European settlement, mountain lions were present in Michigan. The cat, however, was viewed by the first European settlers as a nuisance in their livestock and a rival for venison and other wild game. Another contributing factor to their diminishing population was the widespread deforestation of the forests that the cougars called home as waves of settlement turned much of the state into farmland. To eradicate them and other predators from the environment, numerous states and the federal government established bounties and payments to those who killed predators.
Historically native to Michigan, mountain lions were exterminated there sometime in the early 1900s. In 1906, the last recorded wild cougar in the state was legally killed.
However, there have been a lot of cougar sighting reports in recent years from different parts of Michigan.
Where Do Mountain Lions Live in Michigan?
All previous reports of mountain lion sightings in Michigan were in the Upper Peninsula. However, when they still existed in a good number in the state, these big cats used to roam around every part of Michigan. They used to be seen in cities and suburbs and sometimes in wooded rural areas.
They can survive practically anywhere, including sea level, the highest snow-covered mountain summits, mountains, wetlands, woods, and deserts. Mountain lions like habitats with lots of underbrush, shrubs, and other plants because they provide cover. They depart the area if they feel threatened.
Mountain lions prefer to live alone all of their lives, and they only deviate from this rule during mating and childbirth. They claw trees and urinate on mounds of leaves, pine needles, or grass to indicate their territory, which alerts other lions to avoid the area.
The hue of the cats’ coats varies from place to place as it is determined by where they reside. Mountain lions may easily prey on deer and other small mammals since they can effortlessly integrate into their surroundings.
Mountain Lion Sightings in Michigan
While mountain lions vanished decades ago from Michigan, several sightings in the past few years indicate that there may be a small or growing population of mountain lions lurking around the state.
Since 2008, numerous reported sightings of mountain lions have been reported, including two illegal hunting operations in the Upper Peninsula. This issue is not peculiar to Michigan, as adolescent males scatter from their core range in the western United States. It has also been happening in many other mid-western and eastern states.
Although reports of these huge cat encounters persisted in villages all over the state, trying to corroborate them with tangible proof proved to be like hunting a ghost. It was frequently discovered that the perpetrator was something other than a mountain lion when photographic evidence was gathered at a purported cougar sighting scene.
From 2019 to 2021, several sightings of mountain lions were captured in trail cameras that were either confirmed or not. In 2021 alone, 10 cougar sightings in Michigan were confirmed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which all occurred in the Upper Peninsula. The number of reported sightings has been rising for several years. However, it has not been possible for biologists to verify the existence of any breeding colonies.
An example of these sightings was a trail camera footage in September of 2021 when a photo captured a mountain lion in southern Dickinson County. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists tagged the photo legit, showcasing a cougar wandering around an open wooded area.
What Do Mountain Lions Look Like?
Mountain lions resemble large, short-haired domestic cats, and they have little, rounded ears on their small skulls. Their large, sleek bodies have long necks and tails. The length of the typical mountain lion varies from around 3’3″ to about 5’5″. The height of the cats’ shoulders from the ground is from 2 to 2 and 1/2 feet. In adulthood, females weigh between 80 and 100 pounds, while males weigh between 125 and 160 pounds.
Their color varies from a tawny hue to a bluish gray throughout the Americas. The most typical hue of mountain lions in the US is tan. Their noses and tails have black or dark edges, whereas their bellies, inner legs, and throats are typically paler. The mountain lion’s legs are strong, designed for a sudden increase in speed, and built for pouncing.
What Other Wild Cats Live in Michigan?
The bobcat, mountain lion, and lynx are the three native wild cats found in Michigan. Since these cats don’t usually venture outside to play, most Michiganders are surprised when they learn of their sightings.
The Canada lynx has been spotted multiple times in the state’s northern regions. Some researchers, however, think these cats are simply passing through as they move. Meanwhile, the most common wild cat found in the state is the bobcat, which has been confirmed in every county in Michigan.
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- Michigan.gov, Available here: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/education/michigan-species/mammals/cougar/2019-confirmed-cougar-sightings
- The Lasco Press, Available here: https://www.thelascopress.com/2021/03/did-you-know-michigan-is-home-to-a-cougar-population/