The Bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a North American mammal of the cat family, Felidae. With twelve recognized subspecies, it ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico, including most of the continental United States. The Bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as semi-desert, urban edge, and swampland environments. It persists in much of its original range and populations are healthy.
With a gray to brown coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the Bobcat resembles the other species of the mid-sized Lynx genus. It is smaller than the Canadian Lynx, with which it shares parts of its range, but is about twice as large as the domestic cat. It has distinctive black bars on its forelegs and a black-tipped, stubby tail, from which it derives its name.
Though the Bobcat prefers rabbits and hares, it will hunt anything from insects and small rodents to deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Like most cats, the Bobcat is territorial and largely solitary, although there is some overlap in home ranges. It uses several methods to mark its territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces. The Bobcat breeds from winter into spring and has a gestation period of about two months.
Although the Bobcat has been subject to extensive hunting by humans, both for sport and fur, its population has proven resilient. The elusive predator features in Native American mythology and the folklore of European settlers.
TaxonomyThere had been debate over whether to classify this species as Lynx rufus or Felis rufus as part of a wider issue regarding whether the four species of Lynx should be given their own genus, or be placed as a subgenus of Felis. The Lynx genus is now accepted, and the Bobcat is listed as Lynx rufus in modern taxonomic sources.
Johnson et al. report that Lynx shared a clade with the Puma, Leopard Cat (Prionailurus), and Domestic Cat (Felis) lineages, dated to 7.15 million years ago (mya); Lynx diverged first, approximately 3.24 mya.
The Bobcat is believed to have evolved from the Eurasian Lynx, which crossed into North America by way of the Bering land bridge during the Pleistocene, with progenitors arriving as early as 2.6 mya.
SubspeciesTwelve Bobcat subspecies are currently recognised:
- L. rufus rufus (Schreber) – eastern and midwestern United States
- L. rufus gigas (Bangs) – northern New York to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
- L. rufus floridanus (Rafinesque) – southeastern United States and inland to the Mississippi valley, up to southwestern Missouri and southern Illinois
- L. rufus superiorensis (Peterson & Downing) – western Great Lakes area, including upper Michigan, Wisconsin, southern Ontario, and most of Minnesota
- L. rufus baileyi (Merriam) – southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico
- L. rufus californicus (Mearns) – California west of the Sierra Nevada
- L. rufus escuinipae (J. A. Allen) – central Mexico, with a northern extension along the west coast to southern Sonora
- L. rufus fasciatus (Rafinesque) – Oregon, Washington west of the Cascade Range, northwestern California, and southwestern British Columbia
- L. rufus oaxacensis (Goodwin) – Oaxaca
- L. rufus pallescens (Merriam) – northwestern United States and southern British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan
- L. rufus peninsularis (Thomas) – Baja California
- L. rufus texensis (Mearns) – western Louisiana, eastern Texas, south central Oklahoma, and south into Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Coahuila
Physical characteristicsThe Bobcat resembles other species of the Lynx genus but is on average the smallest of the four. Its coat is variable, though generally tan to grayish brown, with black streaks on the body and dark bars on the forelegs and tail. Its spotted patterning acts as camouflage. The ears are black-tipped and pointed, with short black tufts. There is generally an off-white color on the lips, chin, and underparts. Bobcats in the desert regions of the southwest have the lightest colored coats, while those in the northern, forested regions are darkest. Kittens are born well-furred and already have their spots. A few melanistic Bobcats have been sighted and captured in Florida. They appear black, but may actually still exhibit a spot pattern.
The face appears wide due to ruffs of extended hair beneath the ears. The fur is brittle but quite long and dense. The nose of the Bobcat is pinkish-red, and it has a base color of gray or yellowish- or brownish-red on its face, sides, and back. Bobcat eyes are yellow with black pupils. The pupils are elongated vertically and will widen during nocturnal activity to maximize light reception. The cat has sharp hearing and vision, and a good sense of smell. It is an excellent climber, and will swim when it needs to, but will normally avoid water.
The cat is larger in its northern range and in open habitats. A morphological size comparison study in the eastern United States found a divergence in the location of the largest male and female specimens, suggesting differing selection constraints for the sexes.
BehaviorThe Bobcat is crepuscular (generally most active at twilight and dawn). It keeps on the move from three hours before sunset until about midnight, and then again from before dawn until three hours after sunrise. Each night it will move from 2 to 7 miles (3–11 km) along its habitual route.
The sizes of Bobcat home ranges vary significantly; a World Conservation Union (IUCN) summary of research suggests ranges anywhere from 0.02 to 126 sq mi (0.6 to 326 km²). Research has shown that dispersal from the natal range is most pronounced with males. Other research in various American states has shown little or no seasonal variation.
Like most felines, the Bobcat is largely solitary but ranges will often overlap. Unusually for a cat, males are more tolerant of overlap, while females rarely wander into others' ranges.
The Bobcat hunts animals of different sizes, and will adjust its hunting techniques accordingly. With small animals, such as rodents, squirrels, birds, fish and insects, it will hunt in areas known to be abundant in prey, and will lie, crouch, or stand and wait for victims to wander close. It will then pounce, grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. For slightly larger animals, such as rabbits and hares, it will stalk from cover and wait until they come within 20 to 35 feet (6 to 10 m) before rushing in to attack. Less commonly it will feed on larger animals such as foxes, minks, skunks, small dogs and house cats. 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 that 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 through the throat, base of the skull, or chest. On the rare occasions that 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. With the Canadian 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 cousin. During courtship, the otherwise silent Bobcat may let out loud screams, hisses, or other sounds. Research in Texas has suggested that establishing a home range is necessary for breeding; studied animals with no set range had no identified offspring. The female has an estrous cycle of 44 days, with the estrus lasting five to ten days. Bobcats remain reproductively active throughout their lives. (as seen in photograph at left). When walking or trotting, the tracks are spaced roughly 8 to 18 inches (20–46 cm) apart. The Bobcat can make great strides when running, often from 4 to 8 feet (1–3 m).
Like all cats, the Bobcat directly registers, meaning its hind prints usually fall exactly on top of its fore prints (not seen in photograph). Bobcat tracks can be generally distinguished from feral or house cat tracks by their larger size: approximately 2 square inches (13 cm²) versus 1½ square inches (10 cm²).
EcologyThe adult Bobcat has few predators other than man, although it may be killed in interspecific conflict. Cougars and Gray Wolves will kill adult Bobcats, a behavior repeatedly observed in Yellowstone National Park. Kittens may be taken by several predators including owls, eagles, Coyotes, foxes, as well as other adult male Bobcats; when prey populations are not abundant, fewer kittens are likely to reach adulthood.
Diseases, accidents, hunters, automobiles, and starvation are the other leading causes of death. Juveniles show high mortality shortly after leaving their mothers, while still perfecting their hunting technique. One study of 15 Bobcats showed yearly survival rates for both sexes averaged 0.62, in line with other research suggesting rates of 0.56 to 0.67. There have also been reports of cannibalism occurring when prey levels are low, but it is very rare and does not significantly influence the population. One mite in particular, Lynxacarus morlani, has to date only been found on the Bobcat. It is still unclear how large a role parasites and diseases play in the mortality of the Bobcat, but they may account for greater mortality than starvation, accidents, and predation.
Distribution and habitatThe Bobcat is an exceptionally adaptable animal. It prefers woodlands—deciduous, coniferous, or mixed—but unlike the other Lynx species it does not depend exclusively on the deep forest. It ranges from the humid swamps of Florida to rugged mountain areas. It will make its home near agricultural areas, if rocky ledges, swamps, or forested tracts are present, its spotted coat serving as camouflage. If chased by a dog it will usually climb up a tree.
Its population in Canada is limited due to both snow depth and the presence of the Canadian Lynx. The Bobcat does not tolerate deep snow, and will wait out heavy storms in sheltered areas; it lacks the large, padded feet of the Canadian Lynx and can not support its weight on snow as efficiently. The Bobcat is not entirely at a disadvantage where its range meets that of the larger felid: displacement of the Canadian Lynx by the aggressive Bobcat has been observed where they interact in Nova Scotia, while the clearing of coniferous forests for agriculture has led to a northward retreat of the Canadian Lynx's range to the advantage of the Bobcat. which means it is not considered threatened with extinction, but that hunting and trading must be closely monitored. The animal is regulated in all three of its range countries and it is found in a number of protected areas of the United States, its principal territory.
The Bobcat has long been valued both for fur and sport; it has been hunted and trapped by humans, but has maintained a high population, even in the southern United States where it is extensively hunted. Indirectly, kittens are most vulnerable to hunting given their dependence on an adult female for the first few months of life. The 1970s and 1980s saw an unprecedented rise in price for Bobcat fur causing further interest in hunting, but by the early 1990s prices had dropped significantly. Regulated hunting still continues, with half of mortality of some populations being attributed to this cause. As a result, the rate of Bobcat deaths is skewed in winter, when hunting season is generally open. The lynx and Coyote are associated with the wind and fog, respectively—two elements representing opposites in Amerindian folklore. This basic story, in many variations, is found in the native cultures of North America (with parallels in South America), but they diverge in the telling. One version, which appears in the Nez Perce folklore for instance, represents the lynx and the Coyote as opposed, antithetical beings. However, another version represents them with equality and identicality. Claude Lévi-Strauss argues that the former concept, that of twins representing opposites, is an inherent theme in New World mythologies, but that they are not equally balanced figures, representing an open-ended dualism rather than the symmetric duality of Old World cultures. The latter notion then, Lévi-Strauss suggests, is the result of regular contact between Europeans and native cultures. Additionally, the version found in the Nez Perce story is of much greater complexity, while the version of equality seems to have lost the tale's original meaning.
In a Shawnee tale, the Bobcat is outwitted by a rabbit, which gives rise to its spots. After trapping the rabbit in a tree, the Bobcat is persuaded to build a fire, only to have the embers scattered on its fur, leaving it singed with dark brown spots. Mohave believed dreaming habitually of beings or objects would afford them their characteristics as supernatural powers. Dreaming of two deities, the Cougar and lynx, they thought, would grant them the superior hunting skills of other tribes. European settlers to the Americas also admired the cat, both for its ferocity and grace, and in the United States it "rests prominently in the anthology of…national folklore."
Referencescommons Lynx rufus
bobcat in Breton: Liñs rous
bobcat in Bulgarian: Червен рис
bobcat in Catalan: Linx vermell
bobcat in Czech: Rys červený
bobcat in Danish: Rødlos
bobcat in German: Rotluchs
bobcat in Navajo: Mósí
bobcat in Estonian: Punailves
bobcat in Spanish: Lynx rufus
bobcat in French: Lynx roux
bobcat in Italian: Lynx rufus
bobcat in Hebrew: שונר מצוי
bobcat in Lithuanian: Rudoji lūšis
bobcat in Hungarian: Vörös hiúz
bobcat in Dutch: Rode lynx
bobcat in Japanese: ボブキャット
bobcat in Polish: Ryś rudy
bobcat in Portuguese: Lince-pardo
bobcat in Quechua: Puka linsi
bobcat in Russian: Рыжая рысь
bobcat in Slovak: Rys červený
bobcat in Finnish: Punailves
bobcat in Swedish: Rödlo
bobcat in Ukrainian: Рись руда
bobcat in Chinese: 短尾貓