If you are unfamiliar with big cats in North America, you might have trouble knowing offhand their differences. Two of the most common big cats you might see in the 50 states and Canada include the mountain lion and the bobcat. Both species are cats, but they are vastly different in both size and appearance.

Once you learn the difference, the distinction is noticeable. Let us explain both of these marvelous beauties to know a little about their natural habitats and lifestyles.


Visual Differences

Bobcat vs. Mountain Lion side by side
Image Credit: Left – Piqsels; Right – RoyBuri, Pixabay

At a Glance

  • Origin: North America
  • Size: Up to 40 pounds
  • Lifespan: 7-8 years
  • Domesticated?: No
Mountain Lion
  • Origin: Asia
  • Size: Up to 220 pounds
  • Lifespan: 8-13 years
  • Domesticated?: No

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Bobcat Overview

bobcat sitting in grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

Bobcats are much smaller than their cougar cousins and look much more like the Canada Lynx. Since there are so few big cats in North America, they can often be confusing for some to identify.

Bobcats are notoriously shy. They generally stay in dens where they can be secluded, and their young are protected from potential dangers. However, they are definitely not a rare species and inhabit most of North America and Canada.

Characteristics & Appearance

Bobcats tend to hunt and travel alone. They usually come together only for breeding purposes, and the mothers raise the young.

Bobcats remain silent most of the time, but they can let out specific vocalizations like growls, hisses, and other screeches. Have you ever heard these sounds in the distance? You can learn what a bobcat sounds like in this video.

Bobcats are really not much bigger than house cats, topping out around 35 pounds. They have uniquely pointy ears, semi-long coats, and a spotted pattern ranging from brown to red.

bobcat close up
Image Credit: Piqsels


Bobcats trim down on small rodents, ridding pest problems. Hunting is their strong suit, being very agile, quiet, and careful in their movements.

Bobcats can be a real threat to livestock, targeting smaller animals like chickens, ducks, and even baby lambs and goats (if the opportunity strikes.) Some property owners consider them nuisances, and in some areas, it’s legal to kill them.

Some sports teams in high schools and colleges use the bobcat for a mascot, too.

You can own a bobcat under special circumstances, permitting you have the proper licensure and follow the law. However, these big kitties would rather spend their time in the wild doing what they do best.


Mountain Lion Overview

mountain lion protecting her young_outdoorsman_Shutterstock
Image Credit: outdoorsman, Shutterstock

The mountain lion is more well-known than most and goes by different names depending on your area. This fierce feline is North America’s one of two large wild cats—second in size only to the Jaguar and the fourth-largest worldwide. That’s pretty impressive!

They go by many names, including:
  • Puma
  • Cougar
  • Panther
  • Catamount

These beauties range from Canada to South America, able to withstand harsh heat and rugged terrain. These beautiful cats inhabit mountain climates where deer and other large prey are plentiful.

Mountain lions are incredible hunters, using their agility and senses to stalk and track their target. They can run at speeds up to 50 miles per hour with stunning precision. They can even jump 18 feet into the air without a running start.

Due to habitat loss caused by industrialization and the legalization of hunting in many areas, the cougar has lowered numbers. Cougar numbers are still upward of 40,000. But no worries—they have no trouble keeping up against the issues they face.

Characteristics & Appearance

Mountain lions are both diurnal and nocturnal, which helps them see any time of the day, improving hunting success.

They are solitary creatures that very rarely interact with humans. Even if you live in an area where cougars are prevalent, the likelihood of you seeing one is slim to none.

Interestingly, mountain lions cannot roar, although they have many other vocalizations, such as hissing, whistling, and chirping—which is definitely interesting. You can get a full dose of mountain lion vocalizations in this video.

Mountain lions are large, muscular-bodied, tan-coated creatures with naturally long tails. These massive predators get up to 220 pounds as adults, making them primed for big game.

Black panther versions are different due to a melanistic color variant.


These cats pursue a variety of prey such as:
  • Ungulates
  • Rodents

So, their stalking and consumption of potential nuisance animals help humans cut back the population.

However, many farmers or landowners kill cougars that wander onto their territory. They can be problematic for livestock, killing cows and sheep.

Mountain lions, cougars, pumas, and panthers—no matter the name you prefer—have inspired fashion, slang, and sports team names all over.

You can own a cougar in some predicaments with the proper permits and licenses. However, extreme knowledge of big cats and adequate living conditions is necessary. You have to take the proper precautions, and you must check with your state for local laws about ownership.

Of course, the cougar is always happiest in its natural environment.

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What Are the Differences Between Mountain Lions & Bobcats?

If you have a picture of a bobcat and a mountain lion side-by-side, it’s easy to see the differences. But here is a little breakdown comparing and contrasting these two magnificent creatures.

Bobcat vs. Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion Bobcat
Appearance Tan, muscular, long tailReddish-brown
HabitatRocky canyons, mountainsRugged outcrops, forests
Size 64 – 220 pounds18 – 35 pounds
Population Up to 40,0001.4 million
Speed Up to 50 mph30 mph
Prey DeerSmall mammals

Are These Cats Dangerous to Humans?

According to Predator Defense, cougars are not dangerous to humans, as they don’t view us as prey. In fact, they prefer to stay totally tucked out of sight and are the least aggressive of all big cats.

However, that’s not to say that you should ever toy with one. Intentionally antagonizing a large cat could cause retaliation that doesn’t end in your favor.

Some states allow the hunting of cougars and bobcats. Others, such as California, strictly forbid it. You can properly take care of a cougar or bobcat problem in your area with proper avenues. Reach out to local wildlife organizations if you find:

  • Abandoned cubs
  • Sickly cats
  • Cats killing pets/livestock

Other states allow ownership or temporary care with proper licensure. It would be best to never handle a wild animal without valid credentials or experience.

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Which Breed Is Right For You?

If you’re an average Joe, you won’t have the resources to keep a bobcat or cougar. These powerful, untamed beauties prefer natural habitats where they can explore, hunt, and live in peace.

In the rare event that you are a wildlife specialist or obtain special permits, you could keep one of these cats temporarily. However, most of us will be onlookers—hoping we can see one in the wild but not necessarily meet one face to face.

Feature Image Credit: Top: Bobcat (Image Credit: Ceuline, Pixabay) Bottom: Moutain Lion (Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay)