- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Felidae
- Subfamily: Felinae
- Genus: Lynx
- Species: rufus
Scientific Name: Lynx rufus
IUCN Red List Status and Population
Least Concern (Kelly 2016)
Population: Estimated between 2,352,276-3,571,681 individuals in U.S. (Kelly 2016)
Trend: Increasing, stable (Kelly 2016)
Florida is the only state that has recently reported bobcat population decline, due to the rapidly increasing python population in Southern Florida (Kelly 2016).
Weight: 11-30 pounds (roughly twice the size of a housecat)
Length: 26-41 inches
Lifespan: 10-15 years in the wild, 32 years in captivity (Peterson 2000).
About: Bobcats were named after their short bobbed tail, and have regionally distinct coats, ranging from brown-gray to red-brown (rufus, meaning red) (Peterson 2000). They are the most common wild cat in North America. Bobcats are solitary as well as territorial, with established home ranges up to several square miles. Being nocturnal predators, they are rarely seen by humans. They mark their territory by scent marking. Male territory may overlap with several females, although female territories do not usually overlap, according to the Center for Biological Diversity (“Natural History”). They are excellent climbers and can run up to 30 miles per hour. They spend most of their time during the day resting on rocky ledges or in the thick brush.
Physical Description: Bobcats differ from lynx in both appearance and size. Bobcats have dense short hair, spotted pelage for camouflage, a two inch bobbed tail, and have smaller legs and paws than a lynx. Bobcats are always spotted, and the tufts on a bobcat’s ears are also much smaller than a lynx, due to their warmer habitat (Peterson 2000). Bobcats occupy a different habitat than lynx, living in more temperate southern climates according to the Smithsonian National Zoo (“Bobcat” 2017). Both cats are native to North America and are often confused.
Reproduction: Breeding of bobcats is comparable to domestic cats, with males and females only coming together to breed. Litter sizes range from 1-6 kittens, with the females caring for their young alone. The mother teaches her young how to hunt and care for themselves and they leave her around 8 months of age. Once sexually mature at 2 years of age, bobcats can breed at any time of the year.
Diet: Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they only eat meat, and are therefore agile hunters. They stalk their prey and ambush them, killing with a bite to the neck. Bobcats typically hunt small rodents, birds, snakes, lizards, as well as small deer. They are opportunistic hunters and will feed on a variety of food sources, although cottontail rabbits and hares are a typical staple in their diet.
Habitat Types: boreal coniferous and mixed forests in the north, bottomland hardwood forest, and coastal swamps in the southeast; desert, and scrublands in the southwest. Dry scrub, and grassland, as well as tropical dry forests (Kelly 2016).
Current Home Ranges: Most of the United States, Southern Canada, and Mexico (Kelly 2016).
Habitat destruction, rural development, illegal trapping, and shooting, as well as the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border (“Natural History”).
Bobcats occasionally prey upon small domesticated animals, which has led to a negative relationship with people and caused their eradication in urban and suburban areas. Urbanization has also resulted in negative effects on bobcat populations such as genetic isolation and exposure to rodent poisons (Kelly 2016). Increased habituation due to human encroachment has produced human-wildlife conflict, with bobcats being known to attack humans.
Bobcats are typically very reclusive animals, but due to lack of territory, are being seen in close vicinity with humans. This has caused threats to these populations including road kill, downed power lines, and habitat fragmentation. They have proven to be resilient and highly adaptable animals and can outcompete cougars and coyotes, who inhabit the same territory, for prey (Peterson 2000).
Local threats to populations include disease transmission such as canine distemper, direct conflict with domestic and feral animals, as well as poisoning of bobcats (Kelly 2016). Young bobcats are threatened by other predators such as hawks, eagles, owls, coyotes, foxes, bears, and other adult bobcats as described by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Link 2005).
**Hunting these cats is still a major threat to their survival as well, with their fur being used commercially (Kelly 2016).
In the 1900’s, bobcats were thought to be extirpated from the midwestern United States due to habitat loss and exploitation. These animals were hunted for their pelts, which are used for clothing and trade. They have recently recolonized these areas due to the decline of trapping and commercial use of bobcat pelts (Kelly 2016).
Why Bobcats matter
Bobcats are an essential mesopredator (middle of the food chain), and control rodent and small mammal populations in their ecosystems. Without these predators controlling small mammal populations, there would be negative effects on agriculture, as well as diseases that can be spread to humans. It is important to preserve the intricate balance of every aspect of an ecosystem, as an overabundance can cause extreme problems.
Too many mesopredators can cause a negative effect on natural ecosystems. Due to the prosecution of apex predators for centuries, there has been an uprising of the mesopredators dominating ecosystems (Prugh et al. 2009).
Bobcats may occasionally hunt small domesticated animals if they have lost much of their natural home range and are forced to inhabit suburban areas. Once a wild animal finds a viable food source, they are likely to strike again. Follow these management strategies to avoid human-wildlife conflict:
- Do not feed wild animals: this includes all wild animals including squirrels, deer, feral cats, small mammals, and all other forms of wildlife. Predators will follow a prey source, and a fed animal is a dead animal.
- Prevent an excess of birdseed from feeders, bobcats and other predatory animals are attracted to birds and small mammals who feed on them.
- Feed domesticated animals indoors, or clean up after their meals. This food source attracts wild animals and is easily prevented.
- Do not keep your domestic animals’ outdoors, as they can become prey for wild animals, especially at night. Enclose any poultry in a night house, as they are targeted by many types of animals for food.
If you have a problem with bobcats or any other predator in your area, contact local wildlife authorities to help.
- “Basic Facts About Bobcats”. Defenders of Wildlife 2017. https://defenders.org/bobcat/bobcats?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4sL2jsuR2AIVzrbACh3TkAU8EAAYASAAEgKjWPD_BwE
- “Bobcat”. Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute 2017. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/bobcat
- Kelly, M., Morin, D. & Lopez-Gonzalez, C.A. 2016. “Lynx rufus”. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T12521A50655874. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T12521A50655874.en.
- Link, Russell. “Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest”. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife 2005. http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bobcats.html
- “Lynx rufus”. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: North American Mammals n.d. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=144
- “Natural History”. Center for Biological Diversity. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/Mexican_bobcat/natural_history.html
- Peterson, Michael R. “The Biogeography of Bobcat (Lynx rufus) 2000. San Francisco State University: Department of Geography. http://online.sfsu.edu/bholzman/courses/Fall00Projects/lynxrufus
- Prugh, Laura R., Stoner, Chantal J., Epps, Clinton W., Bean, William T., Ripple, William J., Laliberte, Andrea S., Branshares, Justin S. “The Rise of the Mesopredator”. BioScience, Vol 59 Issue 9: 1 October 2009: 779-91. https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/59/9/779/248536