Published on February 7, 2013 by Amy
The bobcat is the smallest member of the lynx group, weighing from 15-30 pounds with a body length of 2-4 feet, depending on its location. Its name was probably derived from its 6″ tail which is tipped white, or bobbed white.
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Bobcats are about 2 feet tall and weigh 20 pounds. They are bigger than a house cat, but they are too small to hunt and eat people. They are usually light brown to reddish brown. Their fur is spotted when they are babies, but the spots fade when they grow up. Bobcats have very short tails, only three to seven inches long. Like house cats, they keep their sharp claws inside their toes. So when they leave a footprint, the claws don’t show. Dog toenails do show up in footprints, so that’s a good way to tell them apart. Bobcats are curious, like cats, but they are very shy and never come up to people. They do not make good pets. Bobcats have very sharp teeth and are carnivorous (eating only meat.)
The bobcat, like all lynx, has a great liking for hare and rabbit, which form a major part of the diet. However, unlike the Canadian 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.
The bobcat is crepuscular, and spends its days in a thicket, cave, or rocky crevice. It is most active three hours before sunset to midnight and one hour before sunset to three hours after. It is very territorial, like most big cats; selecting its prey by several factors including food source, living quarters for protection from the elements, and dense cover. Males have larger territories than females. The male bobcat’s territory may overlap several female territories, and possibly even a neighboring male bobcat’s, but the female bobcats rarely ever overlap territories, which can be from 2-40 square miles. The bobcat marks its territory in a similar fashion to other big cats; feces, gland secretions, urine, and scrapes are used for markers to keep other bobcats away. During the winter, the boundaries are weakened as food becomes scarce.
Females become sexually mature by their first birthday, but males do not reach maturity until about a year after the females. Mating season is in February or March. Following a gestation period of 60-70 days, 2-4 cubs are born blind, helpless, yet fully furred, weighing under 1 lb. They are born in hollow logs, rock shelters (caves), under the roots of a fallen tree, or in the thickets. They will nurse for about two months and then are weaned onto meat. At around 3-5 months they cubs will join their mother on hunts, learning tactics for hunting and making the fatal bite. During this hunt, which is usually at night, the cubs follow the mother’s white-tipped tail. From 7-12 months the cubs will mature enough to become independent and will travel alone.
Although hunting is regulated in many US states the bobcat is relentlessly hunted throughout much of its range. However populations of the bobcat are high and although less common in Mexico, in general the bobcat is not threatened.