Mountain lion sounds are similar to those of our domestic cat. Although the mountain lion (also called puma and cougar to name two alternatives) is a fairly large cat it has physical characteristics that are similar to small cats, which affect sound production. The puma can be large at say 250 lbs but is commonly much smaller and can be surprisingly small. For example in a sample of 37 females in Florida, USA, the mean weight was 36.1 kg with the smallest being 22.7 kg. 36.1 kg is about 80 lbs or a bit more than 5 and a half stones, the weight of a child. By contrast tigers (the world’s biggest cat) are often in the 500 lb category.
Before the classification of cats was based on fairly recent genetic analysis, the puma was placed in the genus of cats called Felis, which is the genus for the small cats (for example, the Scottish wild cat). The mountain lion’s head has the proportions of a small cat (wild or domestic). This includes:
- the shape of the nose
- the morphology (form and structure) of the cat’s feet
- the shape of the pupils (the central transparent area of the eye that looks black)
- a short and wide skull shape
- a short face (the distance between the eyes and tip of the nose)
What this leads up to in terms of mountain lion sounds is that they don’t roar like the big cats (lion , tiger, leopard and jaguar) but purr like our little cat companions. Roaring comes from the different anatomy of the larynx of the big cats. See this page for an explanation: Tiger Roar. The puma purr is a little deeper than the purr of our cat companion, though. (see cat’s purr)
The fact that the puma can’t roar doesn’t exactly mean that it sounds like our pet cat, however!
Pumas use a variety of vocalizations that include a purr, meow, hiss and spit. They also make a low amplitude sound that sounds like wah-wah. The wah-wah sound is also made by the Eurasian lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, caracal, serval and the golden cats (Asian and African). The frightening puma scream is the long range call. It has been described as like a high pitched and short roar of one of the big cats.
Then there is the shrill whistle like call. This call has been used by a tame puma after she received a bit of food after the person called her over. The person described the sound as a high pitched, cheeping, whistle. It can travel a good distance (300 yards). The same whistle call has been heard by researchers in the mountains of New Mexico between members of a family group and up to 300 metres from each other. The whistle would seem to vary between pumas.
Mountain lion sounds are varied and some others are that have been heard between males and females are: a low gargling growl, throaty yowls and squeaks. The squeaks and growls travelled about 50-100 metres while the yowls travelled 200 metres. Single males and females can make an “ouch” sound that apparently indicates frustration or announcing that they are there.
Finally, females can vocalize the fact that they are sexually receptive (in estrus or on heat). These sounds have been variously described as: yowling and caterwauling (domestic cats do this but at a lower volume and less harsh).
The following video contains a variety of sounds including the hiss and growl….sorry this video has been removed by YouTube for and alleged copyright violation.
Here are some more selected videos of mountain lion sounds:
In this first video we see still photos taken with what appear to be camera trap photos – the photographer calls it “motion activated trail-cam”, which implies it is a camcorder. You will be surprised at the mountain lion scream. The video maker says, “The sound recording is a female lion in heat calling for a mate, recorded locally…”
In the next video we hear some more mountain lion sounds that are not really at all like the sounds made by our pet. But no roar. A much higher pitched sound and apparently you have to go out at night to hear these sounds.
The next video was not intended to be that of a mountain lion scream but I am sure it is. It is faint and comes half way through. The mountain lion is some distance away and the sound is very like the sound in the top video. The general consensus is that it is the mountain lion scream, which is quite distinctive.
“i have been stalked and chased by a male mountain lion so the sound is definitely a mountain lion because i heard that right before it chased me”
The next video is of the mountain lion purring. Only it is not quite like the purr we know! Much deeper and a great sound:
I think that completes the tour of mountain lion sounds. The puma is a beautiful animal. To those people who want to harm it – please don’t, just leave it alone.
Sources: these are various but I am indebted to the authors of Wild Cats of the World and IUCN Red List.