Timber Wolf vs Mountain Lion: Who’s Winning?

by Jon D. B.
timber-wolf-vs-mountain-lion-whos-winning

Two apex predators, one winner: What happens when the largest wolf species on the planet takes on North America’s biggest cat, the mountain lion? A battle for the ages.

Just like our first face-off, Bison vs Grizzly Bear, wolves and cougars overlap across North America. These fierce predators have hunted the vast landscapes of this continent for eons. While varied, larger cousins of both once roamed here, their living descendants average about the same weight and hunt the same prey. But what happens when they face one another?

The Combatants: North America’s Largest Wolf vs The Mountain Lion

Northwestern WolfMountain Lion (cougar)
Max weight: 200+ lbsMax weight: 200+ lbs
Max length: 7 feetLength: 8 feet
Bite PSI: 400-1,000+Bite PSI: 400-500
Attributes: Thick, sharp claws, canine fangs, dense musculature, pack hunter, bone-crushing biteAttributes: needle-sharp claws, saber-like fangs, dense musculature, nimble and dexterous
timber-wolf-vs-mountain-lion-whos-winning
Photo credit: Getty images, Outsider

Wolves come in a great variety of subspecies and sizes; over 40, in fact. The largest extant wolf is North America’s Mackenzie Valley Wolf, or Canadian Timber Wolf. These titanic canines roam the northwest of the continent and frequent the Mackenzie River Valley (hence the name). Their mammoth size is so great that they’re officially recognized as a subspecies of gray wolf: The Northwestern Wolf. Males of this subspecies can weigh well over 200-pounds and pack a bite that can crush the bones of a full-grown moose.

And then there’s the continent’s largest cat, the fierce Mountain Lion. Also known as the cougar, puma, panther, or catamount, large males typically weigh in at around 150-pounds. But the biggest cougars can also surpass 200-pounds. Incredibly, The National Park Service‘s largest Mountain Lion ever to be documented weighed 276 pounds, but notes such cats are extremely rare. Size can become a disadvantage when you’re a deadly stealth predator like the cougar, after all.

In short: these are two well-matched apex predators in size. It’s their attributes, however, that make or break a battle to the death.

Attributes: Killer Cat vs Social Canine

If you have both a dog and a cat as companions like this wildlife technician, then you know that 9-times-out-of-10 the cat is running the show. Cats are nimble, lightning-fast, and extremely dexterous by design. This is true even of the biggest cats in nature. From their proportionately saber-like fangs to their needle-sharp retractable claws, cats are designed to kill.

This is precisely why in any one-on-one scenario, a wolf doesn’t stand a chance against a mountain lion. When both are the same size, or even varying, a cougar is going to get ahold of the canine’s neck and tear out its jugular before the poor pup even knows what happened. This is perfectly illustrated in a classic clip all wildlife nuts will be familiar with:

But nothing is ever this simple in the wild, is it?

While cats are solitary predators, wolves hunt in packs. And it’s exceptionally rare for a lone wolf to find itself pitted against a mountain lion for the sole reason that these intelligent, social canines know better.

Final Verdict: One-on-One, Cougar Wins Every Time. But There’s Safety in Numbers for the Wolf

As the ultimate pack hunters, wolves know there is safety in numbers. Their acute sense of coordination allows these beautiful beasts to take down prey four times their size: Moose, bison, you name it. The incredible incisors, canines, and massive molars of the wolf are all mounted in a jaw capable of a whopping 1,500 PSI (pounds of pressure per square inch), too. Place three to ten of these apex predators together, and there’s little to nothing that can stop them.

So much so, in fact, that a revolutionary study published in PeerJ in 2018 found that the gray wolf, in particular, “dominates” the territory of the mountain lion across North America. In almost half of their range, the big cats can only hunt where wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, and jaguars allow them to.

There’s a hierarchy even amongst apex predators, the study details, and mountain lions only best coyotes and similarly-sized predators within.

This settles a key point in the wolf vs mountain lion debate. Wolves are pack hunters, and by sticking together, they control when and where cougars can claim territory.

But pick a lone wolf out of a pack, and he’ll never stand a chance against the mountain lion.

What other matchups would you like to see courtesy of our wildlife expert? Hit up Outsider on Facebook to let us know.

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