Creature Feature: Bobcat

August, 2015

 Lynx rufus

The bobcat is a featured creature rarely seen, yet present throughout much of North America. Roughly twice the size of your housecat, the bobcat is known for its elusive nature and beautiful coat of dense, dappled fur. Coloration varies from buff gray to red brown, darkening along the spine, and lightening to white along the underbelly. Melanistic black cats are also occasionally reported. The species’ uniquely “bobbed” tail distinguishes it from most other felines, but is actually a shared characteristic among all members of the Lynx genus, along with tufted ears, facial ruffs, and relatively long legs.

The bobcat’s greatest strength is its adaptability. Arid desert, deciduous and coniferous forest, subtropical swamp, snowy mountain, and, increasingly, the urban edge are all habitat for this species. Sightings have been confirmed across nearly all contiguous U.S. states, northern Mexico, and southern Canada.

Lynx species prefer a solitary lifestyle, wandering large home territories that vary in size depending on the animal’s sex, time of year, and abundance of prey. Bobcats prefer to feed on rabbits and hares, but will also take rodents, squirrels, insects, birds, and even deer when necessary—no small feat for an average 15 (female) to 21 (male) lb. cat. Hunting occurs primarily at night, dusk, or dawn. Particularly large kills may be partially buried for later consumption.

Mother bobcats give birth to litters of 1-6 kittens in early spring. Kittens will remain with their mother until they mature between 8 and 11 months of age. A bobcat’s life expectancy is between 10 and 15 years in the wild, and over 20 in captivity.    

The bobcat has three close cousins: the (1) Canada lynx, (2) Eurasian lynx, and (3) Iberian lynx. The larger, Canada lynx overlaps in distribution with the bobcat along the US-Canada border. However, the lynx is scarcer in this area, and tends to prefer the cool northern stretch of forest and tundra in Alaska and Canada where it lives closely tied to its main prey, the snowshoe hare. The Eurasian lynx is the largest of the four species, and inhabits the forests of Europe and Siberia. The Iberian lynx, native to the Iberian Peninsula, is considered to be the most endangered feline in the world by many conservationists. The last few hundred cats are confined to two isolated populations in southern Spain.   

Bobcats were historically hunted in great numbers throughout the Midwest and Eastern US for their spotted coats. Today, hunting is more closely regulated and the majority of bobcat populations are considered rebounded and stable. Still, this species is threatened, like so many others, by continued habitat loss and fragmentation, which reduces gene flow and makes the animals vulnerable to disease and inbreeding. The California Fish and Game Commission is considering the adoption of new rules to regulate bobcat trapping at a meeting in Fortuna on August 5, so if you’d like to weigh in the time is right meow.

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