What was the cause of this deformity in an Idaho mountain lion? (UPDATED)

Several people have alerted us to this story about a very strange deformity found in a young mountain lion killed in Idaho. We posted it 2 days ago on our Twitter and Facebook feeds but I thought I’d gather some of the additional information here and update it if more comes to light.

The primary source* for the story has been the Idaho State Journal: Mountain lion with bizarre deformity found in Southeast Idaho

The animal probably about a year old was killed by an unidentified hunter near Weston near the Idaho/Utah border. The cougar was involved in an altercation with the hunter’s dog. He tracked it and legally killed it. The dog survived. Mountain lions are common in this area. The hunter reported the kill to Idaho game officials as required, according to their statement on this case.

As you can see from the photos taken by the wildlife officials, it has anomalous teeth growing from the hard tissue near its ear. A conservation officer took the photo but biologists had not seen such a thing before. The likely explanation from veterinarians is that it is a rare tumor called a teratoma which contain cells that grow teeth, hair, bone or even other limbs. This problem is genetic, present from birth, and not caused by an environmental contaminant or hazard. A variant called “ear teeth” are found occasionally in horses [source]

A second possibility is that the extra tissue is the remains of a failed conjoined twin.

An x-ray would help determine what this may be but the carcass is not in the possession of officials but by the hunter who has it.

According to biologists, the hunter who bagged the cougar plans to take the carcass to a taxidermist. But Fish and Game said it plans to reach out to the hunter to bring the lion in for an in-depth analysis.

If wildlife biologists cannot perform X-rays and a detailed analysis of the mountain lion’s head to confirm or disprove their theories, the mystery of the deformity could remain just that — a mystery.

We’ll watch this story to see if updates emerge. As usual, people freak out over such stories and quickly share them as well as assuming it is some harbinger of danger. It’s not clear if the animal would have experienced physical trouble because of the deformity or that it is anything more than a curious and unfortunate natural process gone awry. Additional information was not available to the public about the carcass. But we can hope the hunter will cooperate in allowing examination of the remains.

*Please folks: ALWAYS click the links to the original source in news aggregator stories! Don’t get it third-hand.

UPDATE (15-Jan 2016) Idaho State Journal has an update on the story but, unfortunately, it is not that they have any insight on a conclusion. The writer notes how popular the story became but also that it got picked up and warped by some dubious sources: “Of course, the story has been repeated by not-so-reputable sources, as well. These stories can be found on YouTube with commentators linking the deformity to radioactive forests and Atomic City, Idaho.” Sensationalism rules the net. There is more in this story, though. More details about the cat’s behavior is shared with a “local big cat expert” saying that it is unusual for these animals to interact with dogs.

Why the cougar attacked the dog could be attributed to a couple of reasons. Being a young cat, it may have been inexperience, said Smith. But there’s a possibility of developmental problems because of the abnormality’s proximity to the brain, Mumford said.

“With any kind of defect of the head … deafness, blindness, mental disorders wouldn’t be uncommon to go along with it,” he said.

This is not unlikely. The animal may have been suffering from the deformity. But apparently the person who has the carcass has not brought it forth for examination.

  5 comments for “What was the cause of this deformity in an Idaho mountain lion? (UPDATED)

  1. Asha
    January 9, 2016 at 9:58 PM

    Thanks so much, Sharon! It would be nice if the hunter would let Fish and Game perform an in-depth analysis of the animal, but the cynic in me is expecting that to not be the case. Wouldn’t want to interfere with creating a fabulously weird taxidermy piece that will, in no way benefit wildlife biology, or the scientific community as a whole. I hope I’m proven wrong. I’d love to know if this is a parasitic twin or a teratoma, with a degree of certainty, as opposed to with the expert’s best guess. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that way. Anyhow, I’m off to be cynical and misanthropic elsewhere this evening. Thanks for following up on this cougar conundrum.

  2. Tom
    January 11, 2016 at 1:42 AM

    I have just seen the Daily Telegraph headline for this story, which of course reads “Scientists baffled” not “Scientists intrigued” no doubt the same “scientists baffled” by UFO reports

  3. January 11, 2016 at 4:08 AM

    Possibly a teratoma: an odd tumour that can produce hair/bone/teeth, normally an internal tumour but I suppose this one could have been superficial enough to erode to produce the wound seen above. Not aliens, probably.

  4. Russian Skeptic
    January 14, 2016 at 1:34 PM

    Anyway, I would rather have this particular kitty alive as a circus star.

  5. Statistique
    January 18, 2016 at 3:40 PM

    Talk about pareidolia! When I first saw it I thought it looked like a chicken head looking to the right.

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