Felis rufa

The Bobcat, although it does not bare the family name is a distinct species in the Lynx genus. However although the canadian lynx and the bobcat share some of the same territory, the bobcat is perhaps more closely related to the Eurasian and Spanish lynx, having spread into North America from Asia earlier than its canadian relative. It is thought that the original bobcats were much larger than at present and have perhaps reduced in size as a result of competition with early puma species, so as to now take advantage of a different niche in the predatory food chain.

In comparison with the canadian lynx the bobcat is generally smaller and although it shares many of the common lynx characteristics, it can be differentiated from the lynx in a number of ways. The bobcat has less pronounced ear tufts and cheek ruffs, a dark tip covering only the top of its ‘stumpy’ tail, much smaller feet, and a generally more patterned and varied coat coloration. Ground fur colour ranges from light grey, through yellowish brown to reddish brown and markings vary from ‘tabby’ stripes to heavy spotting. In general, bobcats found in the southern parts of their range are darker and smaller, whilst cats in the north are usually paler and larger.

The bobcat like all lynx has a great liking for hare and rabbit, which form a major part of the diet. However, unlike the canadan lynx, which almost exclusively hunts the snowshoe hare, the bobcat will commonly switch prey species when its preferred source of food is unavailable. Males will hunt larger prey such as deer in the winter months when other prey is scarce. Bobcats also prey on other small mammals, such as squirrels and chipmunk, rodents and birds. Generally they hunt both by night and day, although there is evidence to suggest that most hunting takes place at dawn and dusk, corresponding to peak periods of activity of the hare and rabbit, their main prey species. Bobcat tend to be more diurnal during the winter months.

In behaviour, the bobcat is less secretive than its canadian relative and is found in a broad range of habitats from the Canadian/USA border down through to Mexico. Bobcats are found in coniferous and mixed forest to the north, swamp areas in and around Florida, and desert and scrubland in the south-western states of the US. They are however absent from the highly cultivated areas of the northern mid-states. Despite its smaller size, the bobcat is also thought to be more aggressive than the lynx and in areas where their ranges meet, such as on the Cape Breton Island of Nova Scotia, the Bobcat has displaced the lynx from much of the island.

Although the bobcat generally breeds between February and June in some areas, they have been known to breed all year round. The litter size is generally large, usually consisting of 1-6 young and are born after a gestation period of approximately 60 days. The kittens have a daily weight gain of approximately 25g per day and are weaned at about 12 weeks - the bobcat is independent of its mother at about 10-12 months of age. There is a noticeable difference between the lifespan of the wild and captive bobcat - in the wild the average age is believed to be 12-13 years, however in captivity bobcats can reach their mid twenties.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Garman