Woodcock Nature Center Column: Mysterious Mountain Lions of CT

GOOD Morning Wilton is thrilled to bring readers an occasional feature contributed by the environmental educators at Woodcock Nature Center. They’ll be bringing you news and information about what’s happening seasonally in nature where we live and answering reader questions about our local environment and wildlife. (Email questions directly to Woodcock Nature Center.) 

Written By:  Jennifer Bradshaw, Environmental Educator

Spending time outdoors in Connecticut, you’ll almost surely encounter chipmunks, squirrels, the occasional deer, a very rare bear–but a mountain lion? In Connecticut?

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are a big cat species native to the Americas. They can be found in several different ecosystems including mountains, forests, wetlands, and deserts. These powerful cats can weigh between 70-220 pounds, with males weighing more. Adult mountain lions can be 7-8 feet long, including their tails. Their powerful hind legs enable them to jump up to 40-45 feet. Cougars are stealthy predators, hunting mainly at night waiting for prey and then silently stalking it. Typically, they prey on deer but also feed on smaller mammals. Mountain lions will often bury parts of their kill to consume at a later time.

Female mountain lions can mate all year long and have an average of two- to four cubs per litter. These cubs are born with spots that will disappear by the time they are nine months old. Their eyes will change from blue to yellow around 16 months of age. At around 18 months the young cubs will leave their mother to fend for themselves.

Although there was thought to be a difference between the Eastern and Western mountain lion, in 2000 a genetic study was conducted, and most biologists now believe there is no difference between the two. Either way, the Eastern mountain lion was unofficially declared extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011. In 2018, they formally declared them to be extinct.

For over 30 years the CT DEEP has been tracking reported sightings and maintain it has never observed or found proof that mountain lions are still here in the state. On June 11, 2011, in Milford, CT, a mountain lion was killed by a motor vehicle. It is the only confirmed presence of a cougar in recent years. This young male cougar was found to have DNA from other cougars found in South Dakota which means it traveled about 1,800 miles east.

Paul Rego, a wildlife biologist with the DEEP, told Connecticut Magazine that many so-called sightings are misidentified because people often overestimate the size of animals we see in the forest, especially those we are most afraid of. Many mountain lion sightings may have been confused with a bobcat or coyote. There have been several theories and urban myths about mountain lions in CT, including a suggestion that the CT DEEP has been flying them in by helicopter as a way to control the deer population in the state. Another theory is that  DEEP is aware that mountain lions can be found but don’t want folks to get scared or that, in an effort to protect these beautiful big cats, it won’t acknowledge that cougars actually remain in Connecticut.

Whether or not any of these theories are true is anyone’s guess, but the fact remains it’s very unlikely you will ever encounter a mountain lion while on a hike here in this state.

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