Plants and Animals

Felis concolor Cougar

species photo

Key Characteristics

The cougar is a large tan cat averaging 6.5 feet (2 m) (females) to 7.5 feet (2.3 m) (males) in length with a long tail (one third its body length), often held low with the tip curved upward. Tracks are rounded and are 3 to 3.5 inches (7.6 - 8.9 cm) in length and width, with a forwardly raised, flat, three-lobed heal pad which is abruptly squared off in the front. Unlike canids (dogs), all felid (cat) tracks generally have no claw marks.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: E - Endangered (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S1 - Critically imperiled


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Cougars historically inhabited nearly every major habitat in the state, but they preferred forested or semi-forested landscapes near streams and rivers with minimal human impacts. A great deal of controversy surrounds the status of cougars in Michigan, though native wild, reproducing populations are known from northern Minnesota and parts of Canada. The Upper Peninsula would likely provide similarly suitable habitat conditions and prey base, and would be a logical location to survey for this species.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Cougars require a healthy prey base (primarily white-tailed deer, but also other smaller mammals). Management to minimize contact with humans in portions of appropriate landscapes would likely be beneficial to this species.

Active Period

Breeding from first week of December to fourth week of March

Survey Methods

A tracking survey effort of 224 linear miles (360 km) per 310 square miles (803 sq. km) of habitat is recommended, but as little as 56 linear miles (90 km) in ideal tracking conditions is suitable. Adults are solitary except during the breeding season. Average summer and winter home ranges for males can vary considerably (from 47 to 114 square miles/122 to 295 square kilometers).

Track surveys

Survey Period: From first week of November to fourth week of March


Survey References

  • Van Dyke, F.G., R.H. Brocke, and H.G. Shaw. 1986. Use of road track counts as indices of mountain lion presence. Journal of Wildlife Management 50:102-109.
  • Wilson, D.E., F.R. Cole, J.D. 1996. Measuring and Monitoring Biological Diversity - Standard Methods for Mammals. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Technical References

  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.