Mountain Lion (Cougar) Tracks

Puma concolor

perfect mountain lion track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This is a beautiful example of a mountain lion track. This is the right front foot. It shows all the details that help you identify it as that imprint of the right front paw. What are those details?

The first thing to notice is that the track is asymmetrical. Look at the alignment of to toes. The toes are not directly next to each other, like you would find in the tracks of canids, such as coyotes. There is a leading toe. Counting the dewclaw as toe #1, you proceed from left to right and number the toes. The four that normally show up in a mountain lion track are toes 2 through 5. In the photo above, the key is toe #3, which is second from the left. This toe is the leading toe. It is equivalent to your own middle finger. This toe indicates that this is the right track. Put your right hand over the image and notice how well your fingertips fit into the alignment of the toes of this mountain lion.

Another detail to notice is the lack of claw marks. Despite sinking deeply into the wet sand, the big cat left no claw marks.

There are a couple more details that tell you this is a front track. One is the presence of the dewclaw imprint, which is not as easy to see in the photo as it was on the ground. The other is the presence of that nice conical imprint from the carpal pad. The carpal pad is that sixth "toe" that is located way up high on the big cat's wrist. It rarely leaves an imprint in a track. It is located on the outer side of the wrist, another clue that confirms this is the right pawprint.

I included the penny to provide scale. It is 3/4 inch across. This particular mountain lion track was the best of a set of all four footprints that I found. The cougar had stalked through the brush, then pounced and landed in the wet sand with all four feet. It left very nice imprints and this was the best quality track I found in the set.

 
beautiful left front mountain lion track in sand. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This is a nice example of the left front track of a mountain lion. Notice the leading toe here. It is toe number 3 and it is partially obscured because some sand fell into it. The larger, full heel pad tells you it is a front track. front tracks can be slightly wider than they are long. In this case, it is difficult to tell due to the collapse of some of the sand back into the track.

 
mountain lion track in damp sand left front paw. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This track was in firm sand and the cougar did not sink very deeply. The three lobes of the hind edge of the heel pad are very clearly defined her. There is also obvious asymmetry to the alignment of the toes. OK, is this the left or right track? Front or hind?

You're right! It's the right front track! Good job!

 
mountain lion track right foot. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Here is a mountain lion track that demonstrates the concept of asymmetry very well. The leading toe here makes this one the right track! The narrowness of the overall track makes it the print of the hind foot.

 
mountain lion track in dust. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This track is older and less clear than the others above. The leading toe is still obvious here though. You can also clearly see the three-lobed heel pad.

 
detailed mountain lion track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This track was in fine dust at the edge of a dirt road. Notice that the heel pad shows the three parts, or lobes, very clearly. Can you make out a leading toe here? are there claw marks in this track? Which foot do you think it was from?

 
mountain lion track in sand. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This is a nice, large mountain lion track. The width of this one approaches four inches. This mountain lion came out of the brush and entered the edge of a dirt road. He then followed that dirt road for about a mile before exiting back into the brush again. This track is 24 hours old. I first encountered the cougar's trail as I walked down the road. I then back-tracked him to find where he'd come from. The next, day, I followed the trail forward as far as the brush where he exited.

 
mountain lion cougar tracks. Photo copyright Paul Rockwood 2011.

This photo was taken on the Yellowstone River in Montana by another tracker. (Thanks for the photo donation, Paul!) The two tracks on the right are cougar/mountain lion tracks. Beauties too! On the left, you can see the perfect tracks of a mink. The cougar track in the middle is so clear, you can make out all the details.

 
left front cougar track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Here is the left front pawprint of a cougar. This track is part of a set of tracks that were found heading up the edge of a dirt road.

 
cougar track left front foot. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Here is another left front cougar track. This was made by the same mountain lion that made the track in the above photo.

 
mountain lion track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This distorted mountain lion track was found in wet sand along a river. This was part of a trail that I followed where the big cat used the same trail he'd used two weeks previously. Mountain lions do use the same routes over and over.

 
mountain lion track left front paw. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
Nice left front mountain lion track in dusty dirt.
 
two mountain lion tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Two mountain lion tracks side-by-side. These are the left and right front tracks. The mountain lion paused here for a moment, with its tail facing some bushes. It sprayed some scent on the bushes, then moved on. Cats use scent as a way of communicating with others of their species.

 
mountain lion tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

A nice pair of mountain lion tracks. Above is the left hind track, narrower and longer than the front track. The track at the bottom is the left front track. The heel pad of the front track shows nice definition.

 
mountain lion tracks and coyote tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
Mountain lion tracks are on the left and coyote tracks are on the right in this photo. Compare the details of the tracks of these two species.
 
mountain lion tracks and coyote tracks. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Here are the intermingled trails of two species. The mountain lion tracks are indicated by the red arrows. Compare the cougar's tracks to those of the coyote. The coyote tracks show the maple-leaf sort of shape of canine tracks, as well as an X-shaped negative space in the middle. The mountain lion tracks are larger and more rounded in overall outline.

 
mountain lion track and coyote track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

A side-by-side comparison showing a cougar track on the left and a coyote track on the right.

 
mountain lion trail. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Mountain lion tracks going on both directions. I found tracks here two weeks previous to this find. These tracks followed the exact same route. The cougar had climbed down the bluff and ended up on the sandy river bank at the same place. Notice that the tracks in this photo are going in both directions. The animal passed back and forth several times. Above this was a steep bluff that I could not climb. The cougar had no trouble at all, however. Below this was a short stretch of river bar, then the river.

 
mountain lion trail through brush. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

The arrows show the trail of the mountain lion through the brush. I am standing in the brush, looking out toward the open river bar. I followed the cougar into this hidden spot by backtracking it from the site where I found all four tracks, indicated by the top arrow. The bottom arrow indicates the last track made as the mountain lion made its pounce through the branches, landing at the top arrow. If you look closely at the tip of that arrow, you can make out the track shown in the photo below, a nice perfect right front pawprint!

 
mountain lion track left front foot. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This is the complete right front track of the mountain lion. notice all the cracking of the soil around it. This was due to the force with which the cougar landed here in the sand. The cat had been in the brush, and then it pounced, and landed with all four feet leaving nice tracks.

 
cast of a mountain lion track. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

This is the cast of the mountain lion track in the photo above. Letter B shows the imprint left by the dewclaw, which is toe number one. It is located on the inside of the cougar's wrist and normally does not leave an imprint in the tracks. Letter C shows the carpal pad, which is located even further up the cougar's wrist. It is located on the outside edge of the leg. Letter A points to a small claw mark on toe number two. If you look closely, you will also see a claw imprint ahead of toe number four. The completeness of this tracks makes is ideal for studying the structure of mountain lion feet.

 
perfect cougar tracks in snow
Cougar tracks found in Boulder, CO. Donated photo. Thank you, Ron Stewart!

Beautiful right hind and right front tracks in snow!

 
Cougar tracks found in Boulder CO
Cougar tracks found in Boulder, CO. Donated photo. Thank you, Ron Stewart!

The tracks are the right hind, at top. The right front is below, closest to the ruler.

 

Cougar, Puma, Mountain Lion Videos

Many species on video from a trail camera
Cougar, mountain lion, puma video from my trail camera

 

 

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Copyright 2013. Text, photos, and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera

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Copyright 2009, 2013. Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design.

Page updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013.

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