A mountain lion (Puma concolor) is also known as a puma, cougar, panther, or wildcat. Regardless of all the different names for this animal, it’s a beautiful animal. But did you know that a mountain lion can purr like a house cat? However, unlike big cats — tigers, jaguars, and lions — mountain lions cannot roar. Read on to learn all the secrets of the vocalizations of these stealthy felines!


Why Do Mountain Lions Purr?

mountain lion protecting her young
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While lions are typically associated with roaring, the mountain lion has a much gentler vocalization. They purr just like a domestic cat. This sound is a sign of contentment and can even help mountain lions communicate with each other in their natural habitat. The mountain lion purrs while feeding and while resting, but when it’s hunting or injured, it growls instead. A mountain lion’s purr is often a sign of a healthy, relaxed feline. But while that sound may seem soothing, be sure to keep your distance if you do encounter one of these animals in the wild!

Interestingly, purring in domestic cats has long been considered solely for friendly intraspecific communication and social recognition. It seems to be primarily for soothing purposes and would be used to indicate that “everything is fine” by kittens while nursing.

However, purring can be used in other situations. For one thing, it’s been suggested that a purr can be an “I’m not a threat” signal. Cats (and other feline species) therefore use purring to show that they can be approached safely.

Cats also purr when under stress, in pain, or close to death. Purring seems to be a kind of natural healing mechanism, serving to soothe the cat when they are in pain. It could also help in strengthening and repairing bones, relieving pain, and healing wounds.

How Do Mountain Lions Purr?

Mountain lions purr in two different ways. They can vibrate the larynx while they are inhaling and exhaling, which creates a buzzing sound similar to humming. They can also create vibrations through the larynx while they’re inhaling and exhaling air at the same time, which creates a roar-like sound that’s similar to snarling or growling.

What Other Sounds Can Mountain Lions Make?

Mountain Lion
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In addition to purring, mountain lions can growl, hiss, meow, screak, and spit. Although a solitary species, they can “communicate” with others by emitting a short, high-pitched cry and a whistle-like call.

Furthermore, in a study published in the Canadian Field-Naturalist, scientists and wildlife biologists found two categories of vocalizations:

  • Attention-attracting (caterwauling and meowing). These types of vocalizations vary over wide frequencies and occur mostly during mating periods.
  • Calls (contact, agitated, and alarm). These types of vocalizations are narrow in frequency and vary in intensity. They are mainly used to communicate with close congeners.

However, although mountain lions can make loud and agitated calls, they more frequently use other methods of communication. In fact, the most common communication with nearby pumas involves no sound, but rather scent markings. Vocal communication carries risks, and most mountain lions prefer to limit detection and dangers.

What Other Feline Species Can Purr?

Purring is characterized by a low, continuous rhythmical tone produced during respiration; this creates a murmuring sound. It is a well-known vocal characteristic of domestic cats. However, other species in the Felidae family also purr, including the bobcat, cheetah, Eurasian lynx, and wildcat.

But although some big cats, like lions, make a purring-like sound, studies show that the subfamily Pantherinae — with the lion, leopard, jaguar, tiger, and snow leopard — does not exhibit true purring. Indeed, the structures surrounding their larynx are not “rigid” enough to produce a purr.

Other Interesting Facts About Mountain Lions

  • Although mountain lion is the correct name for the species, cougar and puma are often used interchangeably. There are also a few other names for this species, including panther, wildcat, and catamount, but mountain lion is the most accepted term.
  • These are the only big cats that are native to the western hemisphere.
  • Mountain lions inhabit both Americas but are far more common in the western regions.
  • They can grow to be more than 8 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds.
  • Mountain lions are ambush hunters that feed on a variety of small prey. Aside from the occasional deer, mountain lions feed on squirrels, rabbits, fish, and other small mammals.

What to Do If You See a Mountain Lion

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Mountain lions are shy creatures that prefer to avoid humans whenever possible. Although the chances of seeing one of these magnificent felines in their natural habitat are extremely low, it is possible to spot them in a few major U.S. parks, such as Yosemite National Park. Although attacks on humans are rare, it is essential to take certain precautions if such an event occurs:

  • Stay calm. The best thing that you can do if you see a mountain lion is to stay calm. Humans are prone to startle easily when they feel threatened, which often prompts retaliatory aggression from the animal. If you remain calm and hold still, the animal will likely see you as no threat and walk away.
  • Don’t run. Running can also provoke aggressive behavior in the mountain lion, which may see you as prey. Instead, stand still and hold your ground.
  • Don’t turn your back. While you don’t want to stare the animal down, you don’t want to turn your back to it, either. Instead, face the animal and keep it in your line of sight.
  • Back away slowly. If the animal does approach you, back away slowly. Avoid sudden movements and try to remain calm.
  • Use deterrents. If you have something that can help you fend off the mountain lion, like pepper spray, use so.
  • Report the sighting. If you have time, report the sighting so researchers can better understand and protect this species.

These beautiful and mysterious creatures are an important part of the natural landscape, and we can help protect them by keeping a safe distance and respecting their habitat.


Bottom Line

The purr of a mountain lion, also known as a puma or cougar, is loud and low-pitched. It can be heard from a long way away because it sounds like a rumbling growl. The purr may be used to comfort a mate or soothe an injured paw. It may also be used to signal danger because mountain lions are often shy animals that will hide if they feel threatened. Therefore, purring is more likely to be used by pumas that want to draw attention to themselves rather than intimidate their opponents.

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