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Journey with Nature

Bobcats

American Bobcat
Scientific name: Lynx rufus
Length: 24-48 inches long
Height: 18-24 inches tall
Weight: 15-30 lbs. (males larger)
Coat coloration: tannish with dark spots; lighter coloring on belly
Distinguished by: short (4-7 in) tail with black tip on top side; tufts of hair on top of ears and on cheeks
Habitats: found throughout North American forests, mountains and brushlands
Feeding habits: carnivorous; feed on small mammals and birds; occasionally reptiles
Predators: kittens are hunted by foxes, coyotes and large owl; man is the only threat to adults
Reproduction: mate February to March; average litter of two to three kittens; young stays with mother 7-12 months
Life span: 10-15 years in wild
Conservation status: abundant populations in U.S. and Canada

 

Bobcats are often confused with their cousin, the lynx, as both share a tannish brown coat with dark spots or lined markings. The differences between the two species are in the details. Bobcats have short, pointy dark tufts of hair on the tops of their ears and fluffy tufts of hair on their cheeks. The most significant difference is the tail. Bobcats have short, bobbed tails that are four to seven inches in length - hence the name.

Bobcats are entirely carnivorous, and like to prey on smaller mammals such as rabbits, mice, moles and squirrels. Sometimes birds and reptiles are included in their diets. The largest animal a bobcat has been known to kill is deer, usually in the winter months when small rodents are scarce. Since they are crepuscular creatures, bobcats only hunt from dusk to dawn.

Bobcats favor remote rocky outcrops and heavily wooded areas, though they are, at times, found on the urban edge. The rugged terrain, deep forests and limestone caves of south central Indiana make perfect dens and hunting grounds for our small bobcat population. The home ranges established by bobcats are vast and guarded. Bobcats are very territorial and will outline their space by scent markings. While male territories will sometimes overlap, females won't share their space with any other female bobcat.

As solitary and far-ranging mammals, interactions between humans and bobcats are rare. Yet for years, bobcats were considered endangered in Indiana. As there are no known predators of the great cat, it is safe to say that humans are the bobcat's largest threat. Land development, over-hunting and trapping bobcats for their fur are just a few reasons our state was once in danger of losing our biggest cat.

Bobcats in Indiana

Bobcats were once found in abundance prior to the settlement of our great state. According to Marion T. Jackson's The Natural Heritage of Indiana, bobcats have roamed our lands for more than 125,000 years. However, humans soon became the bobcat's worst enemy. The habitats bobcats needed to survive were lost due to forest clearing for land development and agricultural use. More were lost as traders eagerly trapped bobcats for their valuable fur. Farmers who feared for their livestock also hunted them regularly. Unbeknownst to the early settlers, bobcats are, in fact, a beneficial predator as they prey on rats and other small rodents. By the time the Endangered Species Act passed, the bobcat population had declined so considerably that it was included in Indiana's original endangered species list.

Indiana's Division of Fish & Wildlife began a population study of the bobcat in December of 1998. Their Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program was asked to determine the abundance and distribution of bobcats in the state. By tracking, trapping and fitting bobcats with radio collars, the agency was able to gather information that would be used to create future management guidelines. With the help from hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and other concerned Hoosiers, the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program was able to provide more habitats in which bobcats could live and flourish. In 2005, thanks to long-term management and research programs, the bobcat was removed from the state’s endangered species list and reclassified as a Species of Special Concern.

Interesting Facts about Bobcats
  • Bobcats scientific name is Felis rufus and are part of the cat family Felidae. They are also called bay lynx and red lynx.
  • Bobcats emit an eerie scream that can be heard for miles. Bobcats mark their territory with their urine and/or feces.
  • A bobcat's personal territory can span out up to 30 square miles for males and five square miles for females. These territories are clearly marked by the bobcat's urine and/or feces.
  • Bobcats have excellent vision, hearing and a well-developed sense of smell.
  • Unlike the domesticated housecat, bobcats enjoy the water and are very good swimmers.
  • As incredibly skilled climbers, bobcats can easily maneuver around rocky terrain and climb up tall trees when pursuing their prey.
  • Bobcats are very quiet hunters who pounce on their prey and can kill it with one bite. These large cats are known to leap up to ten feet in the air
  • Bobcat tracks are easy to distinguish - roundish paw, four toes and no claw-markings.
  • While Lynx rufus is flourishing through North America, the Mexican bobcat is still considered a federally endangered species.

 More information about bobcats in Indiana can be found at DNR.gov.

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