It’s true. Your cat has a secretive wild cousin who may visit your backyard. The name is Bob. Bob Cat. Or, bobcat, actually, a name referring to the animal’s short (or “bobbed” tail). Maybe you’ve heard someone say bobcat lynx rufus and you wondered whether the lynx and the bobcat are the same animal. The answer is no! Lynx rufus is the Latin name for bobcats. The common name “lynx” refers to a separate species—a much larger wild feline found in wilderness areas of Canada and Alaska. The lynx is well adapted to chasing its prey in deep snow, but bobcats are troubled by as little as 6” of snow, so instead they range throughout much the U.S., except in parts of the Midwest (where overhunting and persecution eliminated them). Though they usually avoid humans, bobcats sometimes venture into suburbs to hunt. That’s why conflicts sometimes arise between them and people who leave small pets outside without appropriate protection. Read on to learn about these medium-sized predators and their important role in natural habitats.
What are some other lynx vs bobcat differences and similarities? Both have ear tufts, but lynx have the taller tufts and a white patch on the back of their ears. Both have soft, dense fur and a ruff of fur that frames their face. Bobcats have spotted fur, greyish or brownish above and white below. Though smaller than lynx, bobcats are still large-boned and muscular in relation to housecats. Unlike cougars (a.k.a. mountain lions), which have rather long tails, both bobcats and lynx have bobbed tails. The bobcat’s tail tip is black on top and white underneath, while the lynx’s tail tip is solely black. Male bobcats are about 21-30 pounds, while females may be as light as 10-15 pounds, about the same as many housecats.
Bobcats are secretive and solitary creatures, except during the mating season (December to April) and while mothers are raising their young. Bobcats are most active at dusk and dawn—and for good reason. That’s when rabbits, hares, and many other small mammals they prey upon are most active. They may also be out at night or in the day, depending upon the availability of food. They sometimes take prey as large as deer and hide it under leaves so they can return to finish it later, but mice, voles, birds, frogs, and other small creatures are more typical prey for them. They’re also versatile in choosing habitat and their home ranges may vary from one to over one hundred square miles.
Bobcats may seem like athletic, active animals, but they also spend a fair amount of time napping, just like your typical housecat. While lynx feel comfortable resting in the open, bobcats seek sheltered spots under cover on a bed of leaves or in a rock crevice.
Life of a baby bobcat
Sometime between April and June, a bobcat ready to bear her young will take to a den in a rocky crevice, or perhaps in a hollow tree or under a root wad. Typically bobcats have 1 litter of 2-4 kits per year. A Florida bobcat may have 2 litters per year, and bobcats in Florida are found throughout the state. A baby bobcat will nurse for 3-4 months, and by about the 5th month, the mom will take her young out to begin learning how to hunt. She’ll move the litter around among as many as five dens to keep them safe from predators, and she does all the parenting with no help from “Bob” (the kits’ dad). Kits stay with their mom until the next mating season, and then go off to find and establish their own home ranges. (Female kits’ home ranges may overlap with their mom’s.)
Bobcats communicate in numerous ways. If you’re ever fortunate enough to hear them, bobcat sounds include a range of purrs, calls, hisses, snarls, and growls that convey meaning. Their facial expressions also convey meaning, and are made more evident by the presence of white fur around their eyes and mouth. Another way bobcats communicate is by marking their territory with urine, feces, scrapes, and tree scratches. And, like house cats, they rub their cheeks and necks on objects to leave their scent.
Bobcat role in ecosystems
Though bobcats are predators themselves, they are preyed upon by cougars and coyotes, and sometimes by large free-roaming dogs. As predators, they help keep in check some of the species that can quickly become too numerous, such as mice, voles, and rabbits. When farmers and ranchers persecute bobcats, they either don’t understand or appreciate the worthy services that bobcats perform.
Problems with bobcats
Bobcats are rarely a true problem for humans. They have large home ranges and generally try to avoid us. If one comes into your yard, he’s likely just passing through and won’t be seen again for some time, if ever. When they do get into conflicts with us, it is often because people have opted to feed their pets outside, tempting wildlife into close proximity of their home and pets, or because they have failed to properly protect or monitor their small pets while outside. Woven wire enclosures for small pets who are consistently kept outside and close monitoring of small dogs or cats while they are outside are both practical and effective solutions to potential conflicts.
The reality is that we are a bigger problem for bobcats than they are for us, due to habitat loss and fragmentation, deaths from collisions with vehicles, and persecution from farmers and ranchers. In many states, bobcats are also hunted for their fur. Bobcats in PA have been increasing in number since hunting of them began to be regulated—they are that state’s only remaining wild feline. Call them what you like—bobcats, Rufus lynx, or any other name—but try to help others appreciate the bobcat’s important role in the environment as a natural predator, and whenever you can, speak up for protecting the habitat they need to survive.