How Do Mountain Lions Fight? (When and Why They Do It)

If you have a list of animals never to fight, mountain lions should be high up on it. They are every bit as fierce as their African cousins but can be found much closer to home. 

Mountain lions are some of North America’s fiercest predators and the largest big cat. They didn’t get that distinction by being pushovers, either, and they can hold their own in a fight and seriously injure anyone unlucky enough to get in their way.

But why do mountain lions fight? And more importantly, when do they choose to fight or attack? Join us on Floofmania as we run down how mountain lions fight.

Mountain lion lying on a piece of wood, looking attentively towards something behind the camera.

Are Mountain Lions Aggressive Animals?

Mountain lions are fierce but not usually aggressive in most circumstances. They will gladly chase down intruders or fight other predators they consider a threat, but they won’t attack someone without reason, especially people. 

These large cats know that messing with humans can mean trouble, so they often avoid populated areas and stick to the forests. Even when people head into the woods to go hiking or camping, encounters with the shy and discreet mountain lion are uncommon.

When a mountain lion does attack, there is usually a reason (at least in the animal’s eyes), such as people getting too close to their territory or having their cubs nearby. This applies to both people and other large animals.

The chances of being attacked by a mountain lion are incredibly small unless you’re a deer or elk.

Fact: The odds of getting attacked by a mountain lion while hiking are one in a billion. You’re more likely to hurt yourself while showering than get mauled by a mountain lion. (So be careful in that shower!)

Do Mountain Lions Fight Each Other?

Fights between mountain lions have been known to happen from time to time. While they might avoid trouble with humans, the same isn’t true for each other.

There have been several recorded instances of mountain lions fighting one another. While rarely observed, some experts believe this isn’t uncommon, though reasons can vary.

Why Do Mountain Lions Fight?

While they’re not mindless savages, mountain lions will fight people and other animals if given a good enough reason. Several of the usual causes include:

  • They are fighting over territory and resources.
  • Mountain lions are feeling cornered.
  • They are protecting their young.

Mountain Lions Are Territorial Animals.

When it comes to mountain lions, territory is everything. It is where they hunt, sleep, and raise their cubs, so they aren’t too keen on letting others intrude. That is why if other predators or mountain lions get the idea of trying to enter their territory, they are in for a lot of trouble.

Male mountain lions will fiercely defend their territory from intruders and may even risk a fight with humans. They have been known to stalk people who enter their territory, either pouncing at them or attempting to scare them off.

The only exception male mountain lions make are females they see as potential mates.

Fact: The average male mountain lion’s territory is about 150 miles, while a female’s territory is 50 miles. Male territories often overlap with females as they are more accepting of their presence. 
Mountain lion walking through snow while looking very alert, its tail curved upwards.

Mountain Lions Lash Out When Cornered

Nothing is more dangerous than a cornered animal, especially if that animal is eight feet long and has razor-sharp claws and teeth. When our mountain-dwelling friends are in trouble, they can become highly aggressive. 

Normally, these big cats prefer to escape a situation without violence. On many occasions, mountain lions opt to back out or retreat into the woods instead of fighting. Giving them this opportunity is crucial as it gives them room to leave without getting hurt.

Take that opportunity away, and the mountain lions are more likely to fight. If they are backed against a wall and feel like fighting is the only way out, best believe they will fight. Mountain lions will lash out and attack, sometimes attacking even larger predators and humans. 

That is why people are often warned not to get too close to mountain lions, as it might cause them to panic.

Mountain Lions Will Protect Their Cubs

Even mountain lions love their young and will do anything to protect them, including attacking other animals. One of the most common causes of mountain lion attacks is someone or something getting too close to the cubs while the mother is nearby.

When they are born, these felines are helpless and wholly dependent on their mothers for protection. For the first few months of their lives, their mothers will hunt and protect them while at the same time showing them how to hunt and fend for themselves. 

Mother mountain lions are constantly on the watch for anyone who gets too close to their cubs. Anyone approaching them might be seen as an attacker and have to deal with the mother lion.

Do Mountain Lions Warn Other Mountain Lions, Or Attack Directly?

When there is trouble between mountain lions, people think that violence is the first instinct, but that is not true. Before going for the attack, most of our feline friends will first try to warn off intruders. 

While they are powerful animals, they don’t want to fight any more than their intruders and prefer that you leave peacefully. When it comes to large animals and people, these mighty cats see their presence as challenging and will try to assert dominance to force them to leave.

The first warning they do is to mark their territory, so you will know that this place belongs to them. Things like claw marks on trees or urine on branches and twigs are signs that mountain lions use to mark their territory. They won’t have a reason to bother you if you back away.

If someone does enter a mountain lion’s territory, they should expect a challenge. Mountain lions, especially male mountain lions, are highly territorial and won’t react kindly, but they won’t attack immediately either. Typically, they will give the intruder a chance to back down. 

Mountain lions will try to scare the intruder by snarling and baring their teeth, coupled with the occasional fake chase. These are meant to frighten the interloper and get them to back off. If that doesn’t work, more often than not, the mountain lion will attack.

Mountain lion walking and looking straight towards the camera.

Are Mountain Lion Fights Fatal, Or Do They Usually Back Down?

Evidence for fights is difficult to find, so we cannot say how they usually end, though both options seem quite possible. There have been several cases of mountain lion fights turning fatal, including one incident where a security camera managed to record what happened.

However, at the same time, we are not finding mountain lion carcasses everywhere, which is a sign that fatal fights aren’t everyday occurrences. Judging by how they behave around humans and other animals, many cases end with one of the felines deciding that fighting isn’t worth it and backing down. 

What Happens To The Loser Of The Fight?

What happens to a loser depends on what he does. There are many ways a fight can go down and so many ways it can end. If the loser decides to back out early and not fight, the dominant mountain lion might let him go without touching him, though with a wounded pride.

If they do fight, however, things can go either way where the loser might be able to get away if he’s lucky. Mountain lions might lose interest and let the loser go, wounded but alive. That doesn’t happen all the time, though, as some fights have proven fatal.

However, some animals have made the fatal mistake of panicking and running away during a mountain lion encounter.

Running is the worst thing anyone can do as mountain lions take this as a sign of weakness and press their attack, treating the loser like prey. They will chase it down and attack the weaker animal. 

If we were to judge it based on statistics of mountain lions attacking humans, the latter seems to be the minority. While attacks are violent, only a tiny fraction are fatal.

Do Only Male Mountain Lions Fight?

While male mountain lions are aggressive, it’s a mistake to think they’re the only ones who attack. Female mountain lions can be just as ferocious, especially when their cubs are concerned. 

Multiple female mountain lions have attacked humans, predators, and other mountain lions for various reasons. They can feel cornered, defending their young or protecting a meal. 

Fact: Female mountain lions tend to be less territorial than their male counterparts and try to avoid intruders in most cases, only acting aggressively if an intruder gets close to a lioness’s cubs.

Mountain lion lying next to a mossy tree trunk.

Will Mountain Lions Fight For Fun?

Not all fighting with mountain lions is violent, though. Like humans, mountain lions are not ones to shy away from roughhousing. Mountain lions, especially cubs, have been known to play fight with one another.

Why Do Juvenile Mountain Lions Play Fight?

When mountain lion cubs are born, they are usually part of a litter with up to six cubs, meaning they will have plenty of siblings to compete with.

From a young age, these cubs often get into scraps, tumbling or pouncing on each other. They may occasionally scratch and bite, but these gestures aren’t meant to hurt each other. 

In most cases, this is their way to bond and show affection, though this also allows them to hone their reflexes, and practice for more serious encounters later in life.

In some cases, it can be a way for mountain lion cubs to establish a hierarchy. When it comes time to eat, some cubs may fight and compete over food, especially during lean times when there might not be enough to go around. In these cases, fighting can turn more aggressive.

Do Mountain Lions Fight Other Animals?

While mountain lions are big and strong, other equally powerful animals can challenge them. At the top of the food chain with mountain lions are other large predators like bears and wolves who hunt the same food and live in the same environment. While all of them keep their distance from one another, conflict arises from time to time.

A mountain lion lying comfortably in withered leaves next to a rock wall.

What Animals Might Attack A Mountain Lion?

There are only two animals who might realistically attack our large friends, bears, and wolves. Mountain lions have no natural predators, so they only face threats from fellow apex predators. 

Since neither of these animals hunts mountain lions for food, the usual cause of conflict between these animals is fighting over territory or meat, especially when resources are scarce, which leads to increased competition between predators. 

Aside from those extreme circumstances, in most cases, these predators leave each other alone. Predators don’t gain anything from fighting animals that can fight back and seriously hurt them, so they would rather just avoid fighting altogether.

This also applies to humans, which all these apex predators fear. Throughout history, humans have hunted countless bears, lions, and wolves, so much so that they now actively avoid people and prefer to stick to the forests. 

Fact: After a successful hunt, the smell of fresh meat tends to attract other predators, so after eating, mountain lions have taken to hiding their catch. They find a place to hide the meat and cover it up with dirt to mask the scent, saving it for later while preventing other animals from finding it.

How Do Mountain Lions Fight Different Big Predators?

There have been few cases of mountain lions fighting off big predators, but research suggests they actively avoid getting into that kind of fight. According to some observations, depending on what the predators want, mountain lions might just let them have it.  

According to some PBS research, mountain lions sometimes abandon their newly-won meals if predators like wolves and bears are approaching. 

Fact: Mountain lions leave three times as many table scraps as other big predators. 

There have been few recorded cases of mountain lions fighting other large predators, so it is impossible to say how they will fight and how they might deal with them similarly to how they fight humans and other threats.

Mountain lions like to pounce and jump on their prey so they can sink their teeth into their neck or spine to immobilize them if they can attack from behind or get the jump on them, even better, as mountain lions are ambush hunters.

How Do Mountain Lions Protect Their Young?

When mountain lion cubs are born, they are helpless to the world around them, so it falls upon their parents to keep them safe. Mountain lion cubs rely on their mothers to provide food and protection.

Closeup of a mountain lion in profile with blurry greenery behind.

Are Mountain Lion Moms Extra Aggressive?

Protecting the cubs falls squarely on mountain lion mothers, who take this role very seriously. Mountain lion mothers are known to defend their cubs from outsiders fiercely and are even willing to risk attacking humans. 

Even if you aren’t attacking them, just being in the general area of their cubs is enough for mountain lion moms to consider you a threat. Although they may not attack immediately, they will make it clear that they want you to leave. They will snarl, glare, and bare their teeth at you to try and intimidate you.

There was recently a case of this in 2020 where a Utah man hiking in the forest found himself running into a mountain lion mother. That large cat followed the hiker for six minutes as he backed away, occasionally lunging and baring her teeth but keeping its distance. Thankfully, the hiker and the mountain lion both walked out of the situation unharmed. 

Experts said the likely explanation was that the mountain lion mother had a den nearby with cubs and was ‘escorting’ the hiker out of her territory.

Why Would Other Mountain Lions Attack Juvenile Mountain Lions?

When fights between mountain lions do break out, it is almost always due to territorial issues. Territorial disputes are a serious problem for mountain lions, and they will challenge anyone who enters their home, even if the intruder is a juvenile mountain lion. 

The new arrival might challenge the old mountain lion for control over the territory or refuse to back down when warned off. When that happens, the original owner will be forced to defend his position and fight the juvenile.

Some people believe that mountain lions will eat one another, including eating juvenile mountain lions, but there isn’t much evidence for that claim.

There have been no cases of these big cats resorting to cannibalism under normal circumstances, and they will never eat one of their own when forests are full of other animals to snack on.

Can Juvenile Mountain Lions Protect Themselves?

Not at first, but after enough time, juvenile mountain lions will eventually be able to survive independently. Mountain lion cubs will struggle to survive independently because their bodies have not yet developed, and they lack survival skills, which is why they are lucky to have their mothers.

For the first part of their lives, mountain lion cubs depend entirely on their mothers for protection. Eventually, once the juvenile lion cubs can protect themselves, they leave their mother’s care, searching for their territory. The time in which they leave can vary as it normally ranges from 15 to 26 months.

However, when they leave, they may not necessarily be adults yet. It can take these big cats 2.5 to 3 years to reach adulthood, depending on the gender, but they leave well before that.

The reason is that, at this point, even juvenile mountain lions can hunt and defend themselves. While they aren’t as big or fully developed as adults, they are still lions at the end of the day, and not many animals will want to fight them. 

Closeup of the face of a mountain lion with its ears to the side.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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