Coyote Vs. Mountain Lion: Who Would Win? [Strength Comparison]

Photo: Marian Murdoch / Shutterstock

Coyotes and mountain lions are two carnivore mammals living in North and Central America – although mountain lions have a more extensive geographic range. They are both apex predators, and they generally don’t bother one another. 

However, cougars and coyotes can sometimes compete for territory and resources. In these instances, who is more likely to win?

In almost all cases, mountain lions will come out victorious. Cougars are larger, heavier, and more powerful than coyotes. They have longer teeth and a much stronger bite. Their paws are also larger, and these big cats have impressive jumping abilities. Coyotes would only win if a pack fought against a smaller or weaker catamount. 

The table below shows a quick list of facts and strength comparison of coyotes vs. cougars*:

CharacteristicCoyoteMountain Lion
Body size3.3 to 4.3 feet3.25 to 5.25 feet
Paw size2 x 2.5 inches4 x 4.25 inches
Weight 20 to 50 pounds90 to 175 pounds
Speed 43 mph50 mph
Jumping abilities (vertically)3 feet18 feet
Teeth length 1.45 inches1.2 to 2 inches
Bite force727 PSI890 PSI
Strike forceUp to 2,150 lb.-ft./sUp to 8,750 lb.-ft./s
Behavior Social Solitary
DietOmnivore Strict carnivore
Habitat North & Central AmericaNorth, Central, & South America

*Data in the table refers to ranges and averages provided by scientists and researchers for Canis latrans and Felis concolor species. Actual strength facts may vary from one coyote to another.

Strike forces are calculated by multiplying the top speed by the heaviest weight for each species, as mentioned in the table.

Coyote Vs. Mountain Lion: Differences And Strength Comparison

Photo: Michal Ninger / Shutterstock

1. Body Size

Pumas are the largest big cats in North America and the second-largest in Central and South America, where jaguars also live. Despite this fact, mountain lions are not extremely big. 

From a size standpoint, in fact, they are about the same size – or only slightly larger – than coyotes. 

Male adult cougars can reach lengths up to 5.25 feet. However, females are smaller and can measure as little as 3.25 feet in length. Depending on the cat size, their shoulder height can vary from about 23 to 28 inches.

Comparatively, coyotes generally measure between 3.3 and 4.3 feet in length. Some of the largest male cougars are larger than coyotes, but smaller males and most females have about the same length as the canids. 

Height-wise, coyotes grow to a shoulder height of about 24 inches. Thus, we can safely say that there aren’t crucial size differences between these two species.

2. Paw Size

The first real difference between coyotes and mountain lions is the size of the paws. 

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These two predators may grow to similar sizes, but cougars have heavier and much stockier bodies. This is reflected by the size of their paws, which measure about 4 by 4.25 inches

Thanks to this size, pumas are perfectly adapted for walking and running on snow, reaching impressive speeds regardless of the terrain condition. Like most cats, mountain lions also have retractable claws that remain sharp and become valuable weapons in a fight. 

Coyotes have much smaller paws – around 2 by 2.5 inches in size – with non-retractable claws. As the coyote ages, its claws become dull and useless in a fight.

Due to the smaller paw size, coyotes also find it more difficult to move through high snow, and they are generally slower.

3. Weight 

Another crucial difference between coyotes and mountain lions is their weight. 

As mentioned above, cougars have stockier bodies. Adult mountain lions look like smaller lionesses, their bodies being built for hunting and killing larger prey. Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise that a mountain lion can weigh anywhere between 90 and 175 pounds

Coyotes may have a similar size, but they have leaner bodies. Their weight ranges between 20 and 50 pounds, and some coyotes could even weigh less than that. So, even the heaviest coyote would be lighter than the lightest adult mountain lion.

4. Speed 

Mountain lions gain another point when it comes to speed. They can sprint up to 50 miles per hour. Coyotes can’t reach that performance, their speed capping at around 43 miles per hour.

Both species can maintain those top speeds for short distances only. However, even if they are slower when running long distances, pumas are still faster than coyotes.

Prey preference explains why cougars are so fast. 

Like their larger cousins, the lions, mountain lions generally hunt ungulates. These herbivores are fast, often reaching speeds over 40 miles per hour. Thus, the 50 miles per hour sprint cougars are capable of reaching helps them catch their prey.

5. Jumping Abilities

One of the most important things to consider when comparing coyotes and mountain lions is that the former belongs to the dog family, while the latter to the cat family.

Like most cats, mountain lions are impressively agile and undeniably more agile than coyotes. 

Not only can cougars run fast, but they can also jump up to 18 feet vertically. Comparatively, coyotes can only jump around 3 feet high. 

A cougar’s leap is equally outstanding, these animals being able to cover up to 40 feet forward. Flexible spines and sharp claws also make it a cinch for cougars to climb trees.

Apparently, coyotes can climb too. However, they aren’t the most agile of climbers, and they only go up a tree to pursue prey.

Mountain lions, however, mostly climb trees to survey their territory and to stalk prey. So, they could easily take a coyote by surprise. 

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6. Teeth Length 

The paw size isn’t the only department where cougars have an advantage. Their teeth are sharp, strong, and long, too – unsurprisingly, longer than coyotes’ canine teeth.

In fact, coyotes have sharp canines that can reach up to 1.45 inches in length. Mountain lions, however, brag with canines as long as 2 inches.

7. Bite Force

Another round where mountain lions outdo coyotes is the bite force.

Cougars are big cats well-adapted to going after larger prey. Not only do they have long teeth, but their jaw anatomy, with a short yet large muzzle and powerful muscles, enables them to exert a high force when biting. 

Coyotes have a long and narrow muzzle. Their facial muscles are strong, and their teeth are relatively long. However, this jaw anatomy makes it challenging to exert the same force as mountain lions. 

These claims were demonstrated by researchers in a study comparing bite forces in big biting animals.

According to this study, coyotes have a bite force quotient (BFQ) of 88, which is the equivalent of about 727 PSI. 

Cougars have a BFQ of 108, which is roughly 890 PSI. Not only do mountain lions have a more powerful bite than coyotes, but because the bite force quotient is related to the size of an animal, cougars have a stronger bite than lions. 

8. Strike Force

While biting forces in carnivore animals are often studied by scientists, the contrary is true as far as strike forces are concerned. That’s because carnivorous mammals rely on speed and bite for killing rather than paw swipe. 

Nevertheless, the strike force at the moment of the impact (momentum) can be calculated by multiplying the speed by body mass. 

For the purpose of this comparison, we considered the top speed each species can reach and multiplied it by the max weight mentioned above. 

According to these calculations, coyotes can reach a strike force of up to 66-67 pounds of force (2,150 lb.-ft./s). 

Mountain lions are heavier and faster, so their strike force is naturally greater. They can reach up to 8,750 lb.-ft./s, which is around 272 pounds of force. 

9. Behavior 

Social behavior is something that could give coyotes an advantage – at least as long as a coyote searching for prey doesn’t come across a mountain lion. 

That’s because coyotes are social (pretty much like wolves and other canids), but they actually lead a semi-solitary life, typically hunting and foraging alone.

Nevertheless, the coyote pack, generally formed by a mated pair and their offspring, typically sleeps in communal dens. 

Mountain lions are solitary animals. They only come together for a few days during the mating season, and the only social groups are those formed by mothers and their dependent cubs.

Once they become adults, young mountain lions go their separate ways and establish themselves in a new territory. 

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Since coyotes and mountain lions occur in the same geographic ranges and habitats, they can come across one another. Their territories can often overlap, and these mammals could compete for resources. 

This is where coyotes may have an advantage and win a fight if a lone mountain lion encounters the entire coyote pack. However, coyotes will still likely lose if the mountain lion is a large and strong adult. 

10. Diet

While both mountain lions and coyotes eat meat, cougars are strict carnivores, whereas coyotes are considered omnivores.

Mountain lions hunt by stealth, deer representing their prey of choice. These predators stalk their prey and generally attack from behind.

In periods of scarce prey availability, mountain lions might also hunt smaller animals, including rabbits, rodents, and even coyotes

Being weaker than mountain lions, coyotes mostly go after smaller prey. They mostly feed on rodents, rabbits, and other small birds, mammals, lizards, and amphibians.

When living in proximity to human settlements, they may also go after livestock, poultry, and pets. 

As opportunistic omnivores, they also supplement their diets with fruits and other plant materials and feed on garbage refuse. 

A similarity between coyotes and pumas is that both species are not only predators but they are opportunistic scavengers as well.

11. Habitat 

Coyotes are a type of wild dog species native to North and Central America. Their geographic range stretches from Canada to Mexico and beyond, but they are not found in South America. 

They are not very fussy about their habitat and can be found in almost all areas, including forests, grasslands, mountainous areas, deserts, swamps, and even suburban parks. 

As their name suggests, mountain lions are mostly found in mountainous areas. Nevertheless, these big cats inhabit a variety of ecosystems from Canada to South America. They can also be found in deserts and coastal forests. 

This habitat adaptability of both species makes it easy for them to come across one another.

Both species are abundant in the wild, and none is threatened or vulnerable. However, pumas are considered a protected species, and hunting them is banned in several countries and US states.

Who Would Win A Fight?

Coyotes and pumas may have about the same body size, but mountain lions are heavier, bulkier, and stronger than coyotes. So much so that they even kill and feed on them in periods of scarce food availability. 

In a one-on-one, a coyote would stand no chance – unless the opponent would be a mountain lion cub or a very weak individual. 

When faced with a coyote pack, a male mountain lion may still come out victorious. However, the pack could take out a smaller female or young cougar. Generally, though, the gold medal would go to the mountain lions.

Learn More About Coyotes:

  1. 14 Amazing Types of Coyotes
  2. Eastern Coyote Vs. Western Coyote
  3. Coyote Vs. Bobcat
  4. Coyote Vs. Jackal
  5. Coyote Teeth

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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