The Bobcat (Lynx rufus) is found throughout the North American continent and their habitat ranges from forests to deserts. This wild cat is closely related to the larger Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis). Both of these wild cats evolved from a common ancestor, the Eurasian lynx, which crossed the Bering Land Bridge into northern Canada from Asia approximately 2.6 million years ago. The first wave of the Eurasian lynx migrated into southern North America, which was soon cut off from the north by glaciers. This population evolved into modern bobcats around 20,000 years ago. Later migrations from Asia settled in the northern areas and developed into the Canadian lynx.
Bobcat or Lynx?
Although identification of these two wild cats can be confused, a few physical traits can differentiate them:
Tail: A lynx’s tail has a black tip all around, similar to being dipped in a bottle of ink. A bobcat’s tail is striped with black bands towards the end and has a black tip.
Coat: Lynx has longer hair than the bobcat.
Ears: Lynx have longer ear tufts than bobcats.
Face: The the ruff framing the face of a lynx is longer than that of the bobcat.
Feet: Lynx have much larger feet than bobcats. The paws of the former also have very long hair on their feet to help them walk on snow.
The bobcat dominates North America. The lynx prefers forested areas since its main source of food, the snowshoe hare, lives in the far northern stretch of the continent. Because the bobcat has a more varied diet, its habitat ranges from marshy areas in the southeast, to desert and scrub in the western regions, and to mountain and forested areas in the north. The only area where the Canadian lynx and bobcat coexist is along the U.S.-Canada border, and hybridization between the bobcat and the lynx may sometimes occur.
Presenting the Bobcat!
Most taxonomists do not readily accept the proposed 12 subspecies of the bobcat because their division is roughly based on geographical regions that do not have clear breaks. The only cited differences between the subspecies are general size and coloration, and even these features have blurred boundaries. The larger species members range in eastern Canada and New England, and the smaller are often found in the southern states, such as Florida and Texas. Bobcats inhabiting the forests tend to be darker than those found in the deserts. Then again, a wide divergence exists between sizes of the sexes depending on their location. So it appears that the bobcat is readily adaptable to their immediate environment and habitat.
The bobcat is roughly twice as big as the average housecat. The adult varies from 19 to 49 inch long from the head to the base of the tail, averaging 33 in. The stubby ‘bobbed’ tail, from which the animal derives its name, adds another 3.5 to 8 inches. An adult measures about 12 to 24 inches tall at the shoulders. The male weighs an average of 21 lbs, but have been reported up to 40 lb. The female averages about 15 lbs with a few weighing in at 34 lb.
Movement of the bobcat depends on the habits of their prey. Typically they hunt during dusk until midnight and dawn hours. An animal’s range size can vary from 8-126 square miles, dictated by season, food and mate availability. They tend to follow alongside roads and in trails, moving 2-7 miles within their habitual route and are usually secretive.
Bobcats are solitary hunters. In southern regions, rabbits, hares and small rodents are the primary food source. Like the coyote, the bobcat is an opportunistic predator that, unlike the more specialized Canadian lynx, will readily vary its prey selection. They will also scavenge kill from other animals. Coyotes also compete with bobcats for food, since they both eat the same prey species.
Here in Texas, bobcat breeding season usually begins in February and the young are born about fifty days later in dens located in caves and crevices. Litter size varies from two to seven, but two is most common. Kittens are weaned when they are about two months old and remain with their mother until early fall, when they move out on their own.
Tracks of the bobcat resemble the cougar, but can easily be distinguished based on size. Like all felines, bobcat tracks show four toes without claw marks. They range in size from 1 to 3 inches wide with the average about 1.8 inches. Additionally, their tracks are larger (by ½ to 1”) than those of house and feral cats. Like most wild cats, the bobcat ‘directly registers’, meaning its hind tracks usually fall exactly on top of its fore tracks. Also, their front feet are larger than their hind feet.
If you see a bobcat, they are probably more scared of you than you of it. Regardless, leave them alone and feel lucky that you spotted one.