The Bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a wild cat native to North America. It is found mostly in the United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico. The Bobcat is an adaptable animal that inhabits wooded areas as well as semi-desert, urban, and swampland environments. It lives in a set home range which shifts in size with the season. It utilizes several methods to mark its territorial boundaries including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces.
In appearance, the Bobcat has characteristic black bars on its forelegs and tail. It also has prominent, pointed ears with short tufts of black hair at the tip. The name is derived from its stubby black-tipped tail that, unlike those of other species of the genus Lynx, have a white underside. Its coat is most often light gray or various shades of brown in color, with varying degrees of black spots either dispersed along much of its body or relegated to the otherwise white underparts. The Bobcat is twice as large as a house cat but typically smaller than the related Canadian Lynx. The adult male, averaging 36 inches in. length, and weighing from 16 to 30 pounds, is generally 30-40% larger than the female.
The Bobcat is a carnivorous animal which will hunts anything from insects and small rodents to large deer, but often shows a preference for rabbits and hares. What it hunts will depend on location and habitat, season, and scarcity of prey. The Bobcat breeds from winter into the spring and has a gestation period of about two months. The kittens will stay with the mother until about a year old.
The Bobcat is generally most active during twilight and are therefore considered crepuscular. It keeps on the move from three hours before sunset until midnight, then again from before dawn until three hours after sunrise. Each night it will move from two to seven miles along its habitual route.
As a predator, the Bobcat is able to go for long periods without food, but will eat heavily when prey is abundant. During the lean periods, it will often predate larger animals which it can cache and come back to later. The Bobcat hunts by stalking or ambushing its prey and then pouncing or giving chase for short distances. Its preference is for mammals about 1.5 to 12.5 pounds in weight. Its main prey varies by region. In the eastern United States it is cottontail rabbits, but in the north it is the Snowshoe Hare.
While it rarely kills deer, when it does, it eats its fill and then buries it with snow or leaves, often returning to it several times to feed.
Additionally, the Bobcat is an agile, good climber and well-suited to gaining access to domestic farming operations such as chicken roosts.
A dominant male will travel with a female and mate with her several times, generally from winter until early spring. The two may undertake a number of different behaviors, including bumping, chasing, and ambushing. Other males may be in attendance of this, but will not become involved and remain aloof. Once the male sees that the female is receptive, he grasps her in the typical felid neck grip. The female may go on to mate with other male cats. The female is left to raise the young alone. One to six, but usually two to four, kittens are born in April or May, roughly after 62 days of gestation.
The female generally gives birth in some sort of enclosure, usually a small cave or hollow log. The young open their eyes by the ninth or ten day. They start exploring their surroundings at four weeks and are weaned at about two months. They will be hunting by themselves by their first fall but remain with the mother until nearly a year old.
The Bobcat has few predators other than man. The Coyote has been known to be a direct predator of the Bobcat, but has an unknown effect on Bobcat populations. The Cougar and the Grey Wolf may also occasionally kill Bobcats when they get the chance, and predation by the Golden Eagle has been recorded as well.
Many Bobcats will live to six or eight years of age, with a few reaching beyond ten. The longest it has been known to live in the wild is 16 years, but in captivity has been known to live to about 32 years.
The Bobcat has long been hunted and trapped by humans. It is listed in the CITES treaty which allows it to be hunted so long as doing so is not detrimental to its population. However the Bobcat has maintained a high population, even in the south where it is extensively hunted. Kittens are most vulnerable to hunting, albeit indirectly, due to their dependence on an adult female for the first few months of its life. In the 1970s and 1980s their furs saw an unprecedented rise in price, causing further interest in hunting them. However, these furs are worth little today.
The Bobcat is a very adaptable animal, able to survive in numerous environments. Unlike the other Lynx species, it does not depend on the deep forest, but will also live in swamps as well as mountainous and wooded areas. If rocky ledges, swamps, or forested tracts are present, it will also make its home near agricultural areas.
The original range of the Bobcat was from southern Canada throughout the eastern United States, and down as far south as Oaxaca, Mexico. The Bobcat still occurs in much of this range, from Maine to Florida and westward to Mississippi. It will often inhabit areas near large cities.
Although it is thought by some to no longer exist in certain habitats such as western New York and Pennsylvania, multiple confirmed sightings of the Bobcat have been recently reported in New York's Southern Tier and in central New York, including a dead male found on a roadside just west of Syracuse.
It is thought to no longer exist in much of the Midwest, such as southern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, Iowa, and much of Missouri. There have been several accounts in Delaware and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania, by credible witnesses, of encounters with Bobcats, most notably, by township police officers.
Many sightings have been in suburban areas with large undeveloped plots of land with uninterrupted access along undeveloped stretches of creeks. These areas are only 20-30 miles from Philadelphia. Bobcat activities are confined to well-defined territories which vary in size depending on sex, season, and distribution of prey.
The home range is marked with its feces, urine scent, and by clawing prominent trees in the area. In this territory the Bobcat will have numerous places of shelter, usually a main den and several auxiliary shelters on the outer extent of its range such as hollow logs, brush piles, thickets, or under a rock ledge.
The odor of its den is strong. In summer the range of a male can reach roughly 16 square miles or be less than a square mile while the range of the female is less than half that.
In winter Bobcat territories may expand up to 40 square miles, often overlapping those of other Bobcats. While males are more tolerant of this overlap, females rarely wander into others' ranges.
However two or more females may reside within a male's home range. When multiple male territories overlap a dominance hierarchy is often established resulting in the exclusion of some transients from favored areas. Generally though there exists about one Bobcat per every five square miles, or perhaps slightly less depending on the location.
The Bobcat is valued for both its fur and for the sport of hunting or trapping it. For the most part, the Bobcat is easier to trap than to hunt. Usually predator hunters use mouth or electric calls, to coax in the very sly Bobcat. The most used call resembles the sound of a dying rabbit. Hunters may also use decoys or even dogs to assist in their success. The Bobcat may be spotted in the open, however, for the most part the Bobcat is seen in forest areas that are very rocky.