by Jay W. Sharp
Common Questions About Bobcats
"The bobcat dwells in shadows," said Kevin Hansen in his book Bobcat: Master of Survival. "Such is the nature of a predator that depends on surprise to ambush and kill its prey."
Appearance and Anatomy of Bobcats
- One and a half to two times larger than a typical house cat
- Average body length including tale is 36"
- Average height of adult bobcat is 14-15" from ground to shoulder
- Males range from 16 to 30 lbs, females average 20 lbs
- Tufted ears and a tufted face both marked with bold bands
- A "bobbed" tail that is has a light underside and bold bands on top
- Color of fur ranges from grayish brown to tawny to dark reddish brown and lighter on the undersides
- Dark spots in coat and dark bars on the forelegs
- A lithe, flexible body with legs designed for climbing, pouncing and rapid acceleration.
- Forward-facing yellow eyes with black elongated pupils
Range and Habitat
"The bobcat," said Hansen, "inhabits more of North America than any other native wild feline." It ranges through our Western states, the Canadian border, the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, and northern Mexico.
Supremely resourceful and adaptable, the bobcat thrives in habitats ranging from the dense chaparral of southern California, to the forests of British Columbia, to the citrus groves of central Florida, and to the swampy forests of the Gulf Coast. Like many animals, the bobcat especially favors the environmentally rich "ecotones," or transitional zones between habitat types, for instance, a juncture of woodlands and grasslands or of old growth and new growth.
The bobcat's varied habitats share certain characteristics, including, for instance, said Hansen, "sufficient prey, dense cover, protection from severe weather, availability of rest areas, availability of den sites, and freedom from disturbance..."
Hunting Habits and Diet
"Bobcats are strict carnivores and prey upon a wide variety of mammals, reptiles, and birds," said Timothy Mallow, writing for the Coryi Foundation Internet site. A Florida bobcat, for instance, may prey - often pouncing from a height - on several dozen species within its range, including wildlife such as rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, possums, raccoons, quail, jays, robins, wrens, sparrows and, occasionally, even deer. Opportunistic, it may also feed on fresh carrion. Typically, across its range, the bobcat favors the smaller mammals such as rabbits and rodents. As more of a generalist predator than its North American relatives, the cougar or the Canadian lynx, the bobcat has the ability to adapt to a wider range of habitats.
The most common predator of the adult bobcat is man. Hunters are allowed to hunt bobcats in some areas. Mountain Lions and Wolves are also predators. The bobcat kittens have other predators including owls, eagles, coyotes and foxes.
The bobcat - solitary, restless and wide ranging - may claim a territory that would span several square miles, with the area defined by availability of prey, quality of habitat and locations of natural boundaries. A bobcat will not share its territory with another of the same sex, according to Mallow, but it will permit some overlap with a cat of the opposite sex. It marks the perimeter and interior of its territory with tree scratches, ground scrapes, urine and fecal matter. It marks its territory both to conserve sources of prey and to avoid competitive and injurious battles with other bobcats. A female must be especially selective in choosing her territory because she has to have the denning and foraging resources necessary to shield, protect and feed her litters.
Highly mobile, the typical bobcat, according to Mallow, ranges widely in late afternoon and early evening, during the midnight hours, and through the early morning hours. In between the times of its longer distance movements, it forages and rests. Instead of digging a burrow, the bobcat makes its den in hollowed logs, thickets, dense brush piles, rocky shelters or caves - sites that offer concealment from predators (such as cougars, coyotes or other bobcats), protection from weather extremes, and favorable nearby sites for hunting.
The bobcat's breeding season varies with the location and conditions, and a pair's rendezvous - punctuated by romantic squalling and screeching - lasts only a few days, when they will "travel, hunt, and eat together," according to Mallow. Only about two months after breeding, the female delivers two or three kittens, all blind. Over the next year, the mother bobcat, a single parent, will nurse her kittens for a couple of months, wean and feed them solid food for a few months, and teach them to hunt. She will drive them away from home after eight to eleven months, making her kittens disperse to find their own territories. A male will reach sexual maturity after about two years, the female, within one to two years. In the wild, with considerable luck, a bobcat can expect to live perhaps 10 to 12 years, although in captivity, it may live for more than 30 years, according to Hansen.
Taxonomy of the Bobcat
Kingdom -- Animalia -- All animals
Phylum -- Chordata -- Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish
Class -- Mammalia -- Vertebrate, milk-producing animals with hair
Order -- Carnivora -- Includes cats, canines, bears, badgers, weasels, skunks
Family -- Felidae -- Tigers, lions, cougars, bobcats, Canadian lynx, Florida panthers, jaguars, jaguarundis, margays, ocelots, leopards, cheetahs and domestic cats
Genus -- Lynx -- Lynx and bobcat
Species -- Lynx rufus -- Bobcat
A Few Bobcat Facts
A bobcat leaves two-inch diameter tracks showing a heel pad, four toes and no claw marks. Its trail is very narrow because its hind feet prints lie directly on top of, or in "register" with, its forefeet prints. The trail looks as if it could have been produced by a two-legged animal. -- Deserts, Audubon Society Nature Guide, James A. MacMahon
Like all cats, a bobcat, using its whiskers like fingertips, can "feel" prey in complete darkness, for instance in a rodent burrow. If a cat's whiskers "touch a mouse, it reacts with the speed and precision of a mousetrap."-- The Magic of the Senses, Vitus B. Droscher
A bobcat consumes prodigious numbers of prey. It is estimated, for instance, that the Florida female bobcat "and the three kittens to which she gave birth at the beginning of her second year of life will consume at least 3800 cotton rats, 700 cottontail rabbits, and 3200 cotton mice by the end of her second year."-- Coryi foundation Internet site, "Bobcat Ecology," Timothy Mallow
Common Questions About Bobcats
A bobcat consumes all portions of its small prey, acquiring vitamin A - which is essential for conception - from the liver, lungs, kidneys or adrenals. -- Coryi foundation Internet site, "Bobcat Ecology," Timothy Mallow
Unlike most other cats, a bobcat takes readily to water, sometimes attacking
prey such as beaver in the shallows. --
National Trappers Association Internet site
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