Are mountain lions freeloaders?
October 13, 2014 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Do mountain lions ever eat the remains of another animal's kill, or do they eat only what they kill themselves?
posted by tzuzie to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's an article from 2000 that suggests scavenger behavior is rarely documented in mountain lions, though in the context of a major exception to that. A later article from 2005 describes them instead as opportunistic scavengers, similar to this section from a 2001 book. The former has an extended bibliography listed as well as a cited-in list of articles. I don't have any background in puma studies though so I don't know if predation/scavenger behavior is more closely associated with a specific habitat/range or preferred prey!
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:13 PM on October 13, 2014

Likely the lion is the top predator in the local range so the chance that there are other kills to feed upon is rare.
posted by Freedomboy at 6:14 PM on October 13, 2014

Cats like a "fresh" kill, generally. They also very much like the hunt.

I doubt they scavenge, unless they're starving for some reason (drought, environmental pressures decreasing availability of prey, etc.).
posted by jbenben at 6:31 PM on October 13, 2014

Cats like a "fresh" kill, generally. They also very much like the hunt.

Not so much with cougars. According to this page and ranger talks I've heard, cougars are ambush predators and are quite happy to hang out in a tree and just jump on something that passes beneath them. That page also describes cougars as open to scavenging, which isn't terribly surprising considering their behavior with meat they do kill themselves. With a large kill, a cougar will typically cache it and return to it over time. There was a woman killed by a cougar in my (then) area, and the way the rangers caught the cougar that did it was to wait by where the cougar had cached the woman's body for the cougar to return to it. If a cougar is ok with essentially scavenging its own kills some time down the line, it doesn't seem too far of a stretch for it to be opportunistic in other areas. There's a lot of methodology on the web listing ways to bait cougars, so people do seem to use that behavior to their advantage, unfortunately.

Yes, yes, eponysterical ha ha.
posted by LionIndex at 7:08 PM on October 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

I doubt they scavenge, unless they're starving for some reason

This is not actually true; many of the big cats scavenge quite happily. Lions, for example, are more than happy to steal kills from
a) other lions
b) hyenas (though the reverse is probably more common)
c) smaller big cats like cheetahs.
posted by smoke at 7:14 PM on October 13, 2014

I know nothing about mountain lions but since the question is "ever" my answer is "yes, absolutely". A hungry cat will eat whatever is available, though as a rule they don't make a habit of it.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:01 PM on October 13, 2014

This study of lead toxosis in animals scavenging hunter-killed carcasses and the discarded offal of hunters' kills says that coyotes are the main scavengers, but that there are definitely concerns about lead injestion by wolves and cougars as well. The study found slightly elevated lead levels in the blood of 9 wild cougars (none concerning) showing that they were indeed scavenging hunter killed animals or animal parts.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:08 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

All carnivores are scavengers. It's easier.

If you are the biggest predator around, there probably won't be much worth scrounging.

It depends on an animal's environment and opportunities.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:10 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Calling a predator a "freeloader" because it scavenges kills is like calling the person who outbid you on Amazon a "freeloader".

You tracked down and "killed" the item with the highest bid.

They came along and "scared you off" with a higher bid.

That act requires them to be so much scarier than you that (1) you don't dare bluff them with another bid/challenge them, and (2) they think the reward is worth the risk, because their chance of winning is high.

Not a perfect analogy, but being the scariest thing around generally requires a LOT of upkeep. Muscles, bones and teeth don't come cheep.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:26 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

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