Why do mountain lions have so many names?

The reason is twofold. This famous wild cat species has a very wide distribution across the Americas although it is shrinking. Also, it has been recognised and recorded for many hundreds of years which has given widely disparate races and peoples time to write about it in their own way. The first reason is the more important.

Cougar in a UK wildlife park

Cougar in a UK wildlife park – Photo by Neil McIntosh


Cougar Cat Facts For Kids

Cougar Cat Facts For Kids. Credits: Globe by Wikimedia Commons (modified). Cougar by

Historically, the distribution of this wild cat species was enormous. “The cat was found from Northern British Columbia across the southern portions of the Canadian provinces to New Brunswick, south through all of the United States, through Central America, and into South America to the tip of Chile” (SP Young and EA Goldman in The puma, mysterious American cat – 1946). The geographic range is the largest any terrestrial mammal in the Western hemisphere. Nowadays you may know that pumas have been extirpated from the eastern United States. This occurred by the late 1890s. There is a small population in southern Florida.

Across this huge range different peoples gave different names to the cat. I have a page on the various names of the species of cat and therefore I won’t repeat that article here. Please click on this link to read it.

Puma in Santiago, Chile

Puma in Santiago, Chile. Photo: CRCiencia.


In 1609, the name “puma” first appeared when Garcilasso de la Vega, the son of a Spanish conquistador and an Incan Princess wrote: “lions are met with, though they are not so large and also fierce as those of Africa. The Indians called them puma”. Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was one of the first to call the cat a “lion” because the it resembled the African lion.

Mountain lion caught in camera trap by National Park Services AP

Mountain lion caught in camera trap by National Park Services AP

Scientific and popular

In South America, today, the cat is normally called puma subject to a range of local, regional names. In North America, the scientific community use the word “puma” while the public prefer “mountain lion” or “cougar”. Its scientific name, Puma concolor, was created in 1771 by a Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). The name “lion” (león) is used widely in South and Central America. In Brazil it is called leão.

Encountering a mountain lion in California

Encountering a mountain lion in California

“Predatory” older women

Society has adopted the word “cougar” to describe an older heterosexual woman who pursues sexual relationships with men who are younger. The pursuit of men hints at a predatory nature hence the description.

Some more on the puma’s distribution

Puma at night

Puma cat – all aspects with links to more

This is a leading or links page on the Puma cat. The links lead to other pages that expand on ...
Read More
Ghost markings of the black panther aka melanistic jaguar

Where is the black panther cat from?

The term "black panther" normally refers to a black leopard or jaguar and it can also refer to a black ...
Read More
Bobcat in Michigan

Wild cat species in Michigan

According to some "experts" there are possibly two wild cat species in Michigan: the Canada lynx and bobcat. The lynx ...
Read More
Tesla autopilot avoids puma running across road in Montana

Tesla autopilot detects mountain lion running across road (video)

Townsend, Montana, USA: This short video neatly sums up a lot about the relationship between America's mountain lion (puma, cougar) ...
Read More
Beautiful puma

If a cougar mauls a dog and kills a domestic cat you shoot the cougar

The policy of conservation officerso in the area of Penticton1, British Columbia, Canada, is to shoot dead a cougar (even ...
Read More
Do pumas eat penguins?

Do pumas eat penguins?

Do pumas eat penguins? Although I can't find any hard scientific evidence that penguins are a prey item to the ...
Read More

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *