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Why Do Mountain Lions Scream? #1 Best Secret Revealed

Why Do Mountain Lions Scream? #1 Best Secret Revealed

Why do Mountain Lions Scream?

Mountain Lions are also called Cougars (Puma Concolor) according to Vancouver Island University.

Let’s say you’re in the great outdoors, perhaps hiking somewhere in California, and you are enjoying the last warming rays of the evening sun.

Suddenly, a horrible shrieking rents the air, making you drop what you’re holding (you wimp).

Again, another scream rents the air!

This time, you leap to your feet and rush off into bushes and thickets, determined to come to the aid of some damsel in distress (so, not so wimpish after all – well done you).

Rounding an outcropping in a rock, you come face-to-swishing tail of a female, but not a female of the human race.

Instead, you come to a halt as quietly as you can so as not to disturb the mountain lion that is swaggering into the sunset.

The cat lets out yet another scream, proving once and for all that she is the source of the earlier alarm, and with considerable relief, you hastily beat a retreat to put as much distance between yourself and her.


Why Do Mountain Lions Scream?

A scream is just one of the 5 vocalizations that mountain lions make, the 4 others being purring, meowing, hissing, and growling. Female mountain lions scream to attract a suitable mate. Male mountain lions scream to answer females’ calls and alert other males that they’re claiming the territory.


The Types of Mountain Lion Vocalizations

Cougars have a differently shaped larynx from African and Asian big cats, like lions and tigers.

For that reason, mountain lions can’t roar, which begs why we call them lions, but oh, well. However, mountain lions make many of the same sounds as other cat family members.


Mountain Lions Purr

Mountain lions purr when they're relaxed and content
Mountain lions purr when they’re relaxed and content

It is thought that mountain lions are born with an innate ability to purr. This is because mountain lion cubs often start purring before their eyes open.

Some say they are also like our pet felines in that mountain lion cubs are born deaf.

If so, their mother’s purring would be a welcome and familiar rumble during the first few days of life, and instinctively mimicking the sound, in turn, would be reassuring to the mother that all is well with her cub.

Taking this idea through to its logical conclusion, these animals probably purr when they are relaxed and content, or on a few occasions, these solitary beasts keep company with others of their species (during mating season, for example) to communicate that all is well and there is no need for alarm.


Mountain Lions Hiss

Mountain lions hiss in anger or fear, or both.

Mountain lions hiss whenever they feel angry or fearful
Mountain lions hiss whenever they feel angry or fearful

This hissing vocalization is often accompanied by spitting, which the animal does because it can’t rear up on its hind legs, put a paw on your shoulder, dig its claws into you, and draw you towards its saliva-flecked lips while snarling, “Listen, bud, does this look like I’m kidding?”

When a mountain lion starts hissing and spitting, if you maintain your composure (no matter how improbable), you’ll notice that its claws are unsheathed.

This is the cat equivalent of a human taking a knife out of its sheath. It means, “Back off!”

In case I have to spell it out for you, my advice is to heed the animal’s advice.


Mountain Lions Growl

Growling in all adult animals that growl is a maximal sign of aggression. When feeding, it tells others of the species in particular and everyone else in general, “Look, I’m in no mood for nonsense.”

Mountain lions growl as a sign of their aggression
Mountain lions growl as a sign of their aggression

When not feeding, especially with a twitching tail, it is a sign that the animal is considering launching an attack.

A growl increases the level of aggression past hissing and spitting. This latter vocalization and behavior is a long-distance warning.

On the other hand, growling means the mountain lion thinks it has a decent chance of getting to you if it has to. That growling’s the equivalent of a human’s repressed snarl.

Growling in cubs and pre-adolescent mountain lions may be accompanied by a wagging tail. This shows that the animal is playing.

It is a display of mock aggression.

Treat older, heavier mountain lions with plenty of respect. They don’t know their own strength or our weakness.

They won’t mean to hurt you, but in all likelihood, they will if you play aggressively with them.


Mountain Lions Meow

Adult mountain lions rarely meow, as the meow vocalization is used to communicate a wide range of information.

Mountain lions meow either to ask their moms to feed them or as a form of greeting and making inquiries
Mountain lions meow either to ask their moms to feed them or as a form of greeting and making inquiries

Unfortunately, humans have been unable to decipher each and every nuance. However, some patterns have been identified.


Feed Me

Cubs will meow at their mothers when they are hungry and, for some reason, have been denied access to milk.

In these instances, clearly, the kittens are saying, “Kinda hungry here, ma. Milk would be nice!”


What’s Up? 

Mothers meow when returning to the den after being away for a prolonged period.

Meowing is a combination of greeting and making inquiries. I think in human terms, it might go like this: “Hi, kids. Is everything okay? Is everyone here?”


Mountain Lions Scream

Female mountain lions scream to attract male attention.

Females are in oestrus up to five times a year, and at these times, their unnerving calls shred the mountain air to alert all males that a possible courtship is on offer.

Mountain lions, particularly the females, scream to attract the males' attention
Mountain lions, particularly the females, scream to attract the males’ attention

Males, unable to roar due to not having the right kind of larynx, are forced to answer in kind, and add their horrible shrieking to the auditory stew.

Many people have tried to capture the quality of the sound of a mountain lion’s scream. Some pass it off as sounding like a human female in dire need of help, others, like fingernails scraping against a chalkboard.

Still, others say it sounds like a pain-induced, miserable, and harrowing screech that it wouldn’t surprise to find had emanated from some ghoulish apparition.

I find this rather colorful description intriguing, but I cannot say in all honesty that I find it accurate.

Interestingly, although female mountain lions come into heat several times a year, their reproductive efforts lead to cubs only every two or three years.

Perhaps they shouldn’t invest so much energy in screaming?


Frequently Asked Questions about Why Mountain Lions Scream


Do mountain lions and cougars have similar screams?

Mountain lions and cougars do indeed have similar screams for a perfect reason: they are one and the same cat! In fact, mountain lions go by a wide variety of names. Aside from cougars, mountain lions are also called panthers and pumas. Less often, mountain lions are called catamounts and painters.


Do mountain lions scream to claim or protect their territory?

As far as scientists can tell, female mountain lions scream to attract a mate and not to protect their territory. However, the current thinking is that male mountain lions scream to attract a mate and to claim territory and mating rights in their area.


Afterword: Why Do Mountain Lions Scream?

It seems that female mountain lions scream only when they are in heat, which is about five times a year.

On the other hand, male mountain lions appear to call throughout the year, further supporting the idea that they scream to claim territory.

Mountain lions are dangerous beasts, and before rushing off to protect what you might think sounds like a hapless human female, perhaps you should first listen hard and consider whether you can hear any human vocalizations like “Help!”

If you can’t, you should probably proceed with extreme caution rather than with reckless speed and wild abandon.

About Me

Hi, this is Kent Walker. I am an outdoor enthusiast. I love fishing, hiking as well as kayaking. I write about my adventures in the wide open and what I learned about it.