Young mountain lions sort out their place in the litter hierarchy early in life. These little ones are only just weaning and are around 3 months old. Their feigned ferocity, vastly outsized compared to their coordination, makes for a lot of bluff and tumble but no real bite. Often, the competition for a scarce resource is what fuels these interactions. But when there is plenty, tolerance is more abundant. And at the end of the day, they’re all more than happy to put aside their squabbles and seek comfort cuddling and nursing from their mother.
Mom is cougar F5. She’s part of a long-term population study run by the MPG Ranch in western Montana. We first identified her in December 2014 with a yearling kitten. We guessed her to be at least three-years-old at the time, but possibly older. That would make her minimally 10 now, and getting up there for a predator who averages a 13-year expected lifespan in the wild.
At her age, she may not be as successful a hunter as she once was, which would explain why her kittens are fighting for scraps. She had a litter of three the winter before this footage and lost them all, breeding again in the early summer and giving birth in the early fall to these little ones. Life isn’t easy for a predator, and the hazards associated with the hunt take their toll over a lifetime. But as far as we know, F5 is still out there, haunting the mountains she calls home.