Bobcat
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Lynx
Species: L. rufus
Binomial name
Lynx rufus
(Schreber, 1777)
Bobcat range
Synonyms

Felis rufus Schreber

Bobcat (Lynx rufus) are fierce cats that live in forests, swamps, mountains, prairie, and deserts in much of North America. Bobcats are generally nocturnal (most active at night), but are most active at dawn and dusk. They spend the day in their den (a cave, hollow log or rock crevice). They are very good climbers and swimmers. Bobcats are eaten by cougars, coyotes, wolves, and owls. Bobcats usually live from 10 to 14 years. Bobcats and lynxes are closely related.

Description

The Bobcat has powerful jaws and long, pointed canine teeth. It has sharp, retractable claws, big short ears, and a spotted coat. Many bobcats have long tufts of hair at the tip of the ears that improve the cat's hearing. The brown eyes have round pupils. These graceful cats are from 24 to 40 inches (60–100 cm) long (including the tail). The stubby tail is only 4 to 7 inches (10–18 cm) long, and looks as though it was cut off (or bobbed). This is what this cat is named for. They are nocturnal (active at night) and elusive so they are rarely seen by humans.

Bobcats are carnivores (meat-eaters). These fast, solitary hunters eat small mammals (like rabbits, hares, rodents, foxes, weasels, and even the occasional small deer), birds, fish, and eggs. Bobcats stalk their prey, and then pounce onto it. They can leap up to 10 feet (3 m). They can often kill their prey in one powerful bite.

Social structure and home range

Calero Creek Trail Bobcat
Bobcat

Bobcat activities are confined to well-defined territories, which vary in size depending on the sex and the distribution of prey. The home range is marked with feces, urine scent, and by clawing prominent trees in the area. In its territory, the bobcat has numerous places of shelter, usually a main den, and several auxiliary shelters on the outer extent of its range, such as hollow logs, brush piles, thickets, or under rock ledges. Its den smells strongly of the bobcat.

Like most felines, the bobcat is largely solitary, but ranges often overlap. Unusual for cats, males are more tolerant of overlap, while females rarely wander into others' ranges. Given their smaller range sizes, two or more females may reside within a male's home range. When multiple territories overlap, a dominance hierarchy is often established, resulting in the exclusion of some transients from favored areas.

In line with widely differing estimates of home range size, population density figures are divergent, from one to 38 bobcats per 10 sq mi (26 km2) in one survey. The average is estimated at one bobcat per 5 square miles (13 km2). A link has been observed between population density and sex ratio. One study noted a dense, unhunted population in California had a sex ratio of 2.1 males per female. When the density decreased

Hunting and diet

Bobcat having caught a rabbit
Bobcats often prey on rabbits, hares, and rodents.

The bobcat is able to survive for long periods without food, but eats heavily when prey is abundant. During lean periods, it often preys on larger animals, which it can kill and return to feed later. The bobcat hunts by stalking its prey and then ambushing with a short chase or pounce. Its preference is for mammals weighing about 1.5 to 12.5 lb (0.68 to 5.67 kg). Its main prey varies by region. In the eastern United States, it is the eastern cottontail species, and in the north it is the snowshoe hare. When these prey species exist together, as in New England, they are the primary food sources of the bobcat. In the far south, the rabbits and hares are sometimes replaced by cotton rats as the primary food source. Birds up to the size of a swan are also taken, along with their fledglings and eggs. The bobcat is an opportunistic predator that, unlike the more specialized Canada lynx, readily varies its prey selection. Diet diversification positively correlates to a decline in numbers of the bobcat's principal prey; the abundance of its main prey species is the main determinant of overall diet.

The bobcat hunts animals of different sizes, and adjusts its hunting techniques accordingly. With small animals, such as rodents (including squirrels), birds, fish including small sharks, and insects, it hunts in areas known to be abundant in prey, and will lie, crouch, or stand, and wait for victims to wander close. It then pounces, grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. For slightly larger animals, such as geese, rabbits, and hares, it stalks from cover and waits until prey comes within 20 to 35 ft (6.1 to 10.7 m) before rushing in to attack. Less commonly, it feeds on larger animals, such as young ungulates, and other carnivores, such as fishers (primarily female), foxes, minks, skunks, small dogs, and domesticated cats. Bobcats are considered the major predatory threat to the endangered whooping crane. Bobcats are also occasional hunters of livestock and poultry. While larger species, such as cattle and horses, are not known to be attacked, bobcats do present a threat to smaller ruminants, such as sheep and goats. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, bobcats killed 11,100 sheep in 2004, comprising 4.9% of all sheep predator deaths. However, some amount of bobcat predation may be misidentified, as bobcats have been known to scavenge on the remains of livestock kills by other animals.

It has been known to kill deer, especially in winter when smaller prey is scarce, or when deer populations become more abundant. One study in the Everglades showed a large majority of kills (33 of 39) were fawns, but prey up to eight times the bobcat's weight could be successfully taken. It stalks the deer, often when the deer is lying down, then rushes in and grabs it by the neck before biting the throat, base of the skull, or chest. On the rare occasions a bobcat kills a deer, it eats its fill and then buries the carcass under snow or leaves, often returning to it several times to feed.

The bobcat prey base overlaps with that of other midsized predators of a similar ecological niche. Research in Maine has shown little evidence of competitive relationships between the bobcat and coyote or red fox; separation distances and territory overlap appeared random among simultaneously monitored animals. However, other studies have found bobcat populations may decrease in areas with high coyote populations, with the more social inclination of the canid giving them a possible competitive advantage. With the Canada lynx, however, the interspecific relationship affects distribution patterns; competitive exclusion by the bobcat is likely to have prevented any further southward expansion of the range of its felid relative.

Reproduction and life cycle

Bobcat-Texas-9110
Bobcat kittens in June, about 2–4 months old

The average bobcat lifespan is 7 years long and rarely exceeds 10 years. The oldest wild bobcat on record was 16 years old, and the oldest captive bobcat lived to be 32.

Bobcats generally begin breeding by their second summer, though females may start as early as their first year. The pair may undertake a number of different behaviors, including bumping, chasing, and ambushing. Other males may be in attendance, but remain uninvolved.

The female raises the young alone. One to six, but usually two to four, kittens are born in April or May, after roughly 60 to 70 days of gestation. Sometimes, a second litter is born as late as September. The female generally gives birth in an enclosed space, usually a small cave or hollow log. The young open their eyes by the ninth or tenth day. They start exploring their surroundings at four weeks and are weaned at about two months. Within three to five months, they begin to travel with their mother. They hunt by themselves by fall of their first year, and usually disperse shortly thereafter. In Michigan, however, they have been observed staying with their mother as late as the next spring.

Tracks

Bobcat tracks in mud
Bobcat tracks in mud showing the hind-paw print (top) partially covering the fore-paw print (center)

Bobcat tracks show four toes without claw marks, due to their retractable claws. The tracks can range in size from 1 to 3 in (2.5 to 7.6 cm); the average is about 1.8 inches. When walking or trotting, the tracks are spaced roughly 8 to 18 in (20 to 46 cm) apart. The bobcat can make great strides when running, often from 4 to 8 ft (1.2 to 2.4 m).

Like all cats, the bobcat 'directly registers', meaning its hind prints usually fall exactly on top of its fore prints. Bobcat tracks can be generally distinguished from feral or house cat tracks by their larger size: about 2.0 in2 (13 cm²) versus 1.5 in2 (10 cm²).

Images


Bobcat Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.