Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Order: Carnivora, Family: Felidae
Bobcats have long legs and large paws; stubby tails; rounded heads and slightly tufted ears. Males are usually larger than females.
The bobcat's coloring varies depending on its geographic location. Bobcats inhabiting timber and heavy brush fields tend toward dark and rust-colored tones, while those found in northeastern California generally are a paler tawny-gray, often with a complete absence of spots on the back and less distinct markings; end of the tail is black tipped with white; upper legs have dark bars and face has thin, black lines radiating onto broad cheek ruff; black tufts on the tips of ears.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
- Bobcats have long legs and large paws; stubby tails; rounded heads and slightly tufted ears. Males are usually larger than females.
- The bobcat's coloring varies depending on its geographic location. Bobcats inhabiting timber and heavy brush fields tend toward dark and rust-colored tones, while those found in northeastern California generally are a paler tawny-gray, often with a complete absence of spots on the back and less distinct markings; end of the tail is black tipped with white; upper legs have dark bars and face has thin, black lines radiating onto broad cheek ruff; black tufts on the tips of ears.
- Bobcats usually weigh between 15 and 20 pounds but can weigh up to 30 pounds. Species has a short tail (6 to 7 inches long); stands about 20 inches tall at the shoulder; and is 28 to 49 inches long.
- While the bobcat's range covers from southern Canada into Mexico, they are probably most plentiful in the western United States, including Idaho, Utah and Nevada to the Pacific Ocean, and from Washington to Baja California.
- Farther north, they inhabit coniferous and mixed forests, but live in swamp areas, desert and scrubland in the southwestern United States.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
- Bobcats eat rodents, rabbits, large ground birds and sometimes reptiles.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
- The bobcat roams freely at night and frequently during the day, except at the peak of summer; it occupies areas from 1/4 of a square mile to as much as 25 square miles, depending on habitat and sex.
- Female occupies smaller area than male and normally does not associate with other females; male is not particularly tolerant of other males, but home ranges of males will overlap those of both males and females.
- The bobcat does not dig its own den — if a crevice or cave is not available, it will den in a dense thicket of brush or sometimes choose a hollow in a log or a tree.
- Solitary; males and females spend only a few days of the year together during courtship and mating.
- Males are usually fertile by first year, but females do not usually give birth to their first litter until 2 years old; females normally produce one litter per year.
- Young are usually born between April and May, although they may be born during any month except December and January. Normally a litter consists of two to three kittens, which are born blind and weigh 4 to 8 ounces. After a 60-day gestation period, births occur in a rock crevice or burrow. Kittens open their eyes after 10 days, are weaned at about 12 weeks, and are taught hunting skills by their mother. They strike out on their own at 9 to 10 months of age. he father has no role in raising offspring.
- Bobcats live for 12 to 13 years.
VI. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:
- The bobcat commonly switches prey species when preferred food source is unavailable.
- It hunts by sight, smell and hearing; once it has targeted prey, the bobcat sprints after it and must abandon the chase if it lasts more than a few seconds. The bobcat is a very patient hunter — it will wait by the burrow of a small mammal for as long as 45 minutes. It usually tracks prey on the ground but can climb trees; it stalks then pounces and kills with a bite to the neck; it has a 10-foot springing range.
- Bobcats mark their territory by depositing urine or feces and by scratching trees. Territory size is determined by the abundance of prey — the more plentiful the food, the smaller the area needs to be.
- The bobcat has a piercing scream; when threatened, it utters a short, sudden and resonant "cough-bark." It yowls louder and most often during breeding season.
- If the bobcat doesn't consume its prey in one sitting, it covers the prey with branches or ground litter and returns later.
- Bobcats see well in the dark because their eyes have a special light reflector behind the retina.
- They are good swimmers.
VII. POPULATION STATUS:
- The bobcat plays a vital role in keeping in check the population of rabbits and rodents that destroy cultivated crops and wild flora.
- Bobcats are preyed upon by humans, cougars, coyotes and wolves; foxes and owls may prey on kittens.
VIII. MORE FACTS ABOUT THE BOBCAT:
- The species is not presently threatened, but may become so unless trade is regulated.
- It is Illegal to keep a bobcat as a pet.
- Until 1971, the bobcat was pursued and destroyed as an undesirable predator and could be killed at any time and in any manner. With the international protection of the world's spotted cats, the fur trade turned to bobcat. Almost overnight, bobcat pelts came into prominence as the most desirable and expensive fur that could be taken legally.
- Human disturbance, vehicles and habitat fragmentation threaten the species.
TRACKING THE BOBCAT:
- It is thought that originally bobcats were much larger than at present and have perhaps reduced in size due to the competition with other puma species, so as to take advantage of a different niche in the predatory food chain.
- The bobcat is found only in North America and is the most common wildcat. It gets its name from its stubby "bobbed" tail.
- Decorative-looking hairs on ear tips serve as antennae, increasing the bobcat's ability to hear the slightest sound.
- Scat is in segments, usually containing hair and bones of prey.
- Fore- and hind-prints are about the same size — 2 inches long, slightly longer than wide, with 4 toes and no claw marks.
- Sometimes prints appear to be made by a two-legged animal because the hind feet may overlap — this manner of walking may be an adaptation to stalking, as the bobcat hunts as its travels and can see where to place its forefeet noiselessly, then brings down hind feet on the same spot.