Bobcat

Common Name:
Bobcat
Scientific Name:
Lynx rufus
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Carnivore
Average Life Span In The Wild:
10 to 12 years
Size:
Head and body: 26 to 41 inches; tail: 4 to 7 inches
Weight:
11 to 30 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Least concern
Current Population Trend:
Stable

What is a bobcat?

Bobcats may look cute and fluffy, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re anything like a house cat. One of the four species of lynx, these wildcats are around twice the size of the average domestic cat and are fierce predators.

Found throughout much of North America, they live in a diverse range of habitats. Bobcats can be found in forests, grasslands, swamps, deserts, and sometimes even roam into suburban areas. Though they may be the most common wildcat in North America, these elusive, nocturnal animals are rarely seen by humans.

Appearance  

Bobcats share many similarities with the other lynx species—Canada lynx, Iberian lynx, and Eurasian lynx—but some distinct features set them apart. The first is their short, black-tipped tail, which gives the species its name because it appears to be cut or “bobbed.” The tail’s coloring is also a clue: while the tip of a lynx’s tail is black all around, the underside of a bobcat’s tail is white.

(Learn more about all the lynx species.)

In addition to being smaller than their lynx cousins with smaller tufts on their ears, bobcats tend to live in warmer climates, so they haven’t adapted to life in the snow. They have thinner coats and smaller paws without any of the fur on their soles that other lynx use to keep warm and avoid slipping on icy pathways.

These cats range from gray to reddish-brown with dark spots and a white belly. Their coat helps them blend into their environment—an important trait for a stealth hunter.

Diet and behavior

Bobcats also have a more varied diet than other species of lynx, each of which tend to focus on one prey animal like the snowshoe hare for the Canada lynx and the European rabbit for Iberian lynx. These skilled hunters eat rabbits, birds, mice, squirrels, and other smaller game, and are capable of killing prey much bigger than themselves, such as deer. They have even been caught fishing large salmon from a creek, and stealing eggs from a python’s nest.

(See first-ever photos of bobcat eating invasive python eggs.)

With their excellent eyesight, bobcats can spot prey from a distance and stalk it quietly while camouflaged. When the time comes, they use their long, powerful hind legs to pounce on the animal—leaping up to 12 feet— and kill it with a bite to the throat. 

As well as being able to run in short, sharp sprints of up to 30 miles an hour, bobcats are strong swimmers and accomplished climbers. They climb trees to catch prey, find a vantage point for a better view, or to escape from danger.

Reproduction

Like other lynx, bobcats are solitary, territorial animals. Males and females mate in February and March, and the young are usually born in April or May.

Females choose a secluded den—for example inside a cave or hollow tree stump—to raise their litter. They usually give birth to between one and six kittens, which remain with their mother for nine to 12 months, learning how to hunt and fend for themselves before setting out on their own.

Threats to survival

Bobcats are classified as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, they are still threatened by human activities that encroach into their territories, destroying or fragmenting their habitats.

(Learn about our impact on animal habitats with your kids.)

In the early 2000s, bobcat survival rates dropped significantly—from around 84 percent in 1997 to 28 percent in 2003—when a new type of rat poison was introduced that interferes with their immune systems and causes genetic changes within individuals. To address this threat, the U.S. has implemented a ban on poison sold in pellet form, and California has banned the types of poison most harmful to species such as bobcats.

Bobcats are also at risk of being trapped by hunters for their distinctive, soft fur, which is often exported due to high demand from countries such as China and Russia—65,000 bobcat pelts were exported in 2013. In many U.S. states, bobcats are protected, and hunting them without a permit is illegal.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on September 10, 2010. It has been updated.

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