Admiring Bobtailed Beauties

Figure 1: A beautiful Bobcat

Figure 1: A beautiful Bobcat stands in Yosemite Valley. Photo courtesy of Phil Hawkins

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are incredibly beautiful animals that capture the imagination. They are about twice the size of a house cat reaching between 26-41 inches from head to the base of their tail1. They have small tufts on their ears and well-defined spots on their thick, yellowish/reddish brown fur. They also have the classic short “bobbed” tail which has bands and a tip that is black on the upper side2 (Figure 1).

Bobcats are the most abundant wild cat in North America and are found across the U.S., in southern Canada and even northern Mexico. Even with this wide range, it still faces threats from to hunting, persecution and habitat fragmentation and loss. These beautiful cats inhabit many different habitats that include coniferous and deciduous forests, mixed forest, grasslands, chaparral, scrublands and even the Everglades. This variety shows the versatility and adaptability of this animal.

Factors that make an area suitable bobcat habitat include prey abundance and shelter from severe weather and for their cubs. A Bobcat’s home range size can vary significantly according to geographic area and season. They can even be found in areas where logging and agriculture are taking place as long as it provides cover, resources and prey for them. (Figure 2) In these areas, Bobcats do their best to avoid direct contact with people; often moving away from any human activity3. They appear to be quite adaptable, but do have preferences and specific habitat requirements that vary according to the geographic area in which they are living3.

Figure 2: Bobcat hunting

Figure 2: A bobcat hunts from a birch tree. Photo courtesy of Frank Rossi

Habitat choice is never more crucial then when a female is choosing a spot to raise kittens. There must be plenty of den sites and enough prey to feed her and her litter. Females can breed after their first year, and can give birth to 1-5 kittens. Males are not sexually mature until they are two years old and provide no assistance in raising young3. You have to be a tough lady to be a momma Bobcat.

Bobcat kittens are born with their eyes closed and open them within 3-11 days. Their mother nurses them until 7-8 weeks of age (Figure 3), and at that time, the kittens begin to the eat meat. When the kittens reach 3 months, they will start tagging along with their mother and often remain with her until the following spring2. In the wild, Bobcats live an average 10-12 years, but can reach an age of 151.

Figure 3: A mother Bobcat

Figure 3: A mother Bobcat nurses her kittens. Photo courtesy of Tanya Mello

Bobcats are often one of the top predators in their areas. They hunt a variety of animals including insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Rabbits seem to be their favorite prey, but they are capable of hunting full sized deer2 (Figure 4). Like other cats, they pounce on prey and are capable of making a 10ft leap1 (Figure 5). Wow! They are usually nocturnal hunters; preferring to come out at night. They can also be active in the morning and evening, and activity patterns can vary significantly depending on the season. They are not common prey for other species, but kittens are vulnerable to foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey3. However, they are hunted and trapped in several states.

Figure 4: Bobcat kittens

Figure 4: Bobcat kittens enjoy the leftovers from a deer killed during hunting season. Photo courtesy of Jeff Frabel

I have personally never been so fortunate as to see a Bobcat in the wild. If you have, you are incredibly lucky. They are wonderful, powerful animals that can have a huge and beneficial impact on their environment. Bobcats help their ecosystem by keeping the number of rabbits and deer down. This improves the native vegetation of the area by reducing the number of animals grazing on it. This in turn can help keep invasive species out, decrease erosion and improve water quality. It’s amazing how much we need predators. If you want a perfect example, read up on the impact of wolves in Yellowstone.

Figure 5: A Bobcat pounces

Figure 5: A Bobcat pounces. Photo courtesy of Dan Weisz

Check out the below video to view how wolves change rivers. It is well established in science that predators have positive impacts on the environment, and Bobcats are no exception.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about Bobcats as much as I have. When you are out walking quietly in the woods, keep a sharp eye out for their ear tufts, bobbed tail, and fluffy coat. You might just get lucky!

  1. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/bobcat/
  2. http://www.science.smith.edu/msi/pdf/i0076-3519-563-01-0001.pdf
  3. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/lyru/all.html
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