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Mountain Lion Unit Study

Updated on October 20, 2014

Walk like a Mountain Lion

Notice the way a Mountain Lion walks. The two feet on one side are together while the two feet on the other side are far apart.
Notice the way a Mountain Lion walks. The two feet on one side are together while the two feet on the other side are far apart. | Source

Let's Learn about Mountian Lions!

Mountain Lions are also known as cougars, panthers or in my native state of Vermont, catamounts. Mountain Lions were believed to have died out in Vermont after the last catamount was shot and killed in Wardsboro in 1875.

As homeschoolers we have been learning about the animals that live in the northern forests. At first we thought that wolves were traditionally the top predator in Vermont but as we began to research we discovered that Mountain Lions were also top predators.

In this unit study we will learn about habitat, growth and development, and reasons why Mountain Lions were persecuted to extinction in the Eastern United States. We will also learn about Mountain Lion prey, Mountain Lion tracks and much more.

Included in this unit study about Mountain Lions you will find suggested readings, games, activities and ideas for incorporating science, social studies, math, language arts, art, music, and physical education. Come sharpen your claws and prowl through this unit study as we learn all about Mountain Lions...

Language Arts

Mountain Lion in the Snow

Mountain Lion in the Snow - Used under creative commons
Mountain Lion in the Snow - Used under creative commons | Source

Mountain Lion Facts - Non-Fictions Books about Mountain Lions

When we begin out unit study about Mountain Lions we brainstorm everything we know and would like to know about these beautiful cats. Then I like to first read a non-fiction book to get a basis of knowledge.

From our library of non-fiction books about big cats we search to find out where they live. How their territories have expanded or contracted over time and whether or not they are an endangered species.

We look for information about the numbers of cubs born and what their lifespan expectancy is. As we continue to read we discover information about their prey.

One of the books we enjoyed was Mountain Lions by by Sandra Markle in the Animal Predators Series. We read the book and then decided to observe our house cat. We watched how she waited, tense and alert when she had her eye on prey. We noticed how she stalked up on her prey creeping slowly and stealthily through the grass. Only when she was very close did she use her speed to run and pounce upon a mouse or leap up to catch a bird.

Children love playing a version of Hide and Seek where they play the parts of a Mountain Lion and various prey. See the rules for Mountain Lion Hide and Seek below.

Each of the facts we discover becomes a page in our Mountain Lion journals.

Each day we learn more and more about these wild cats.

Reenacting the Lives of Mountain Lions

Though children can learn much information from books, it is through role play that they begin to synthesize that knowledge. By encouraging children to become Mountain Lions acting out how to catch food, raise their young and create shelters, children come to truly understand the lives they lead.

What do you call this animal?

See results

A Mountain Lion by any other name...

The Mountain Lion is called many different names depending on where you come from. Some people know them as pumas while others call them panthers. I was surprised to discover that cougars are also Mountain Lions as are catamounts, the name used in my native state of Vermont.

Mountain Lion Letter Center

Create in independent learning center by placing letter tiles that spell the words Mountain Lion on cat shaped poster board. Rearrange the letters to find other words, Record the words you find.

We found words such as:

  • mountain
  • lion
  • tail
  • mount
  • maul

Variation: Assign points for the number of letters in each word. 2 points for 2-letter words, 5 points for 5-letter words. Etc.


Measuring a Mountain Lion - How big is a Mountain Lion?

Adult Mountain Lions are about 2 1/2 feet high and about 8 feet long from nose to tail. The tail of a Mountain Lion can measure as long as 38 inches.

These numbers are meaningless to children unless they see and experience the actual lengths. Take a look at an adult that is with you right now. How do the measurements of the mountain lion compare to the measurements of this adult? Measure 8 feet on the floor. Ask the adult to lie down. Is this adult 8 feet long? How many children would it take to cover 8 feet?

Draw and cut out the silhouette of a Mountain Lion drawn to the actual measurements in order to create a Mountain Lion unit of measure. Make a list of all the things you can find that are about a Mountain Lion long in length or a Mountain Lion tall in height.


Mountain Lion Observation

Observing Mountain Lions

Mountain Lions are very elusive creatures. The walk on silent paws. They know how to hide and keep their distance from humans. There have been many sightings of cougars in Vermont but park rangers and others who spend their lives living in the woods have not been able to confirm their existence.

If you were to encounter a cougar in the wild it would be very dangerous. Though human is not normally on the mountain lion's dinner menu, these large cats are opportunistic and may attack if they believe that you are timid and small enough to take down.

Because of this, it can be very difficult for children to observe them in the wild. The nearest zoo I found where you could observe mountain lions is the Stone Zoo, just outside Boston, Ma. They also have a Canadian Linx to compare it to.

In addition to visiting the zoo, you might enjoy watching the video to the right where you see pumas interacting with each other.

Here are some activities you might enjoy when visiting the zoo or when watching the video:

  • Notice how much they resemble your house cat.
  • Keep notes in your nature journal
  • Take lots of digital photos
  • Draw pictures of the cats
  • Compare the mountain lions you see in the video with those you see at the zoo
  • What similarities or differences do you see?

Cougar Tracks

Identifying Mountain Lion Tracks

Winter is a great time to get outdoors to study animal tracks. Most of the tracks we see are dogs, deer, birds, chipmunks and other common animals around our farm. Occasionally we might find larger tracks. Could these huge tracks be the footprints of mountain lions?

In the video to the right we can learn about the difference sized wild cat prints we might encounter here in the Vermont woods. These large cats are much more common in the west, from Mexico to Canada but signs that they are returning to New England are being reported more and more often.

Children might like to take a walk in fresh fallen snow with a dog and a cat to compare their tracks.

  • Notice the size of the tracks compared to the size of each animal.
  • Notice whether you can see the claws in those tracks.
  • Gently pick up your dog and then your cat to show the children how a cat's claws retract but a dog's do not.

You can also make plaster casts of the animal tracks you find. When you find tracks of wild animals, make casts of their footprints as well. Back at home or in your classroom, you could sort your casts or use them to make footprints in the sand table.

Fisher Price Cave Rescue Location Railway
Fisher Price Cave Rescue Location Railway
Here are a few trees, a stream and a Mountain Lion in a cave. Rescue the mountain lion

Mountain Lion Habitat - Create a Mountain Lion Habitat

Mountain Lions can be found in most any habitat but prefer dense underbrush for hiding behind or rocky outcrops for stealthily observing their prey. Mountain Lions can also be found in open areas.

When playing in the Sensory Table encourage children to explore the advantages to being up on a rocky cliff, hiding behind bushes or out in the open.


Mountain Lion Drawing

Image of a Mountain Lion in the Public Domain
Image of a Mountain Lion in the Public Domain | Source

How to draw a Mountain Lion

After observing Mountain Lions in the wild you may like to begin drawing them.

  • Lightly sketch the outline
  • Notice that the cat's body is longer that might be expected.
  • Compare the front and back feet. Notice that they are quite different.
  • The head is much smaller in relationship to its body

You can use this drawing as a guide

Drawing Movement in Wild Cats

Study different positions of Mountain Lions. Notice the way they hold their ears or crouch down low when stalking. Try moving in this way in front of a mirror to feel how these big cats move.

When we began drawing big cats we found it helpful to draw quick sketches sometimes but at other times we enjoyed drawing the details or just parts such as the front or back paws, the ears, only the eyes or possibly the nose.

We made little books by cutting a few piece of computer paper in half, folding them, and then stapling them in the middle. We drew dozens of big cats before we felt we had become good at it. When we finished our unit study we used our new talents to illustrate the culminating books and a lapbook we created.

After you have drawn the outline of your Mountain Lion, begin to fill in the shaded spots. With a little practice and maybe a little help from the book, Draw 50 Cats, your Mountain Lion drawings will become more and more realistic.


The Mountain Lion Song

Mountain Lion Songs

Singing songs together is a wonderful way for children to learn. When we sing songs about Mountain Lions I look for songs where the lyrics mention facts about this big cats.

I post the words to the songs and laminate them. We use a pointer covered in tawny fur which resembles a Mountain Lion's tail to help everyone follow along with the words to the songs.

We also love to make up our own songs to familiar tunes. By laminating the posters, we can change the words by placing new words written on Post-its over the original words in order to create a new song.

This method of writing new songs is not only fun and easy but it helps to promote creativity, synthesized the children's growing knowledge about our topic and at the same time helps them learn to read, write and spell in a fun, engaging way..

The Cougar of Haycock Woods is performed by the Harley String Band. The lyrics tell us of the Mountain Lion's ability to walk stealthily through the woods, the animals it preys upon and much more.

You too may enjoy listening to the Cougar of Haycock Woods. Write the lyrics on a poster board and use your pointer to follow along. Once you have sung it a few time, ask the children if they can find some of the words. Hand them the pointer to see if they can find, for example, the word "cougar".

Physical Education and Health

Mountain Lions Make us Healthier!

You may be surprised to read this headline but it is true. Mountain Lions used to live allover North and South America. They were systematically eradicated from the eastern part of North America. Because these top predictors no longer exist in large enough numbers to control the deer population, ticks now are found in ever increasing numbers.

Ticks carry Lime Disease. The number of people contracting Lime Disease in Vermont has been increasing dramatically since 2005. If Mountain Lions were to be reintroduced into the state, they would help to keep the deer population down. Less deer means less ticks. Less ticks would mean that people would have a less chance of contracting Lime Disease.

Sebastian Kennerknetch looked into this topic and created several maps and diagrams to explain the connection in his article, Project Puma: How Cougars are Better for our Health.

Mountain Lion Predator Game

You can make a game using dice and black beans to simulate the ways cougars keep the population of ticks at bay. Use the black beans to represent the ticks.

  • Create a set of dice.
  • One side will have a cougar.
  • Three sides will have deer.
  • The rest are left blank for ticks.

When you roll a cougar, it eats a deer. When you roll a deer, you increase the deer population by one. When you roll a tick, you increase the tick population.

This is a game that we are still working on. Please let me know if you try playing it and find it needs tweeking. What rules would you add? How would you change the game?

Donald Duck and the Mountain Lion Costume

Mountain Lion Hide and Seek

  • You can create your own dice with pictures of prey on each face. (Note: Writing the name of each animal under the picture will help your children to learn to read, write and spell. )
  • The youngest child becomes the first Mountain Lion
  • The Mountain Lion closes his or her eyes and counts in order to give the rest time to hide.
  • The other children take turns rolling the dice and become the animal rolled. (Note: There can be more than one of each kind of animal.
  • Once a child has rolled and discovered what kind of animal they are they quickly find a hiding place.
  • Once the Mountain Lion begins his or her hunt, all other children must move only in the way their animal would move.
  • When the Mountain Lion has finished counting he or she begins to hunt.
  • Animals are caught by being tagged.
  • Once an animal has been tagged it too becomes a Mountain Lion.
  • The last child to be caught becomes the Mountain Lion for the next game.

Have you ever seen a Mountain Lion? Would you like to see a Mountain Lion? What have you learned about Mountain Lions since reading this article about?

Here is your chance to ask questions, tell us about your experiences or in any way, comment about Mountain Lions.


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