The bobcat (Lynx rufus, or commonly Felis rufus) is a wild cat native to North America. They are 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. They live in a set home range that shifts in size with the season. They utilize several methods to mark their territorial boundaries including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces.
In appearance, the bobcat has characteristic black bars on its forelegs and tail. They also have prominent, pointed ears with short tufts of black hair at the tip. The name is derived from their stubby black-tipped tails. Their coat is most often light gray or various shades of brown in color. They have varying degrees of black spots either dispersed along much of their body or relegated to the otherwise white under parts. The bobcat is twice as large as a house cat but typically smaller than the related Canada lynx. The adult male, averages 36 inches (90 cm) long, and weighs from 16 to 45 pounds (7 to 14 kg). The male is generally 30-40% larger than the female.
Bobcats are carnivorous animals that will hunt anything from insects and small rodents to large deer. They often show a preference for rabbits and hares. What they hunt 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.
In appearance the bobcat is quite similar to the Canada Lynx but is usually significantly smaller. In color they are mostly tan to grayish brown, but can vary. They also have numerous black streaks in their coat, with dark bars on their forelegs and tails. Their spotted coat allows them to blend into their environment. The ears are black-tipped and pointed with short black tufts. There is generally an off-white color on their lips, chin, and under parts. Kittens are born well furred and already have their spots.
Adult male bobcats are 28 to 47 inches (70″“120 cm) long, averaging 36 inches (90 cm). The height to their shoulders is about 14 or 15 inches (36″“38 cm). Included in their length is a stubby 6-inch (15 cm) tail, which has a “bobbed” appearance. This gives this species its name. They weigh about twice that of a house cat. Adult males usually ranging from 16 to 30 pounds (7 to 14 kg) while the females, average about 20 pounds (9 kg). They are muscular, and have hind legs that are longer than their front legs, giving the animal a bobbing run. They weigh 0.6 to 0.75 pounds (280 to 340 g) and are about 10 inches (25 cm) in length at birth. By their first year they will reach about 10 pounds (4.5 kg). They have sharp hearing and vision, and a good sense of smell. They are also excellent climbers. Bobcats can and will swim when they need to, but will normally avoid water.
Bobcats are generally most active during twilight and are therefore considered crepuscular. They keep on the move from three hours before sunset until midnight, then again from before dawn until three hours after sunrise.
The bobcat is able to go for long periods without food, but will eat heavily when prey is abundant. During the lean periods, they will often predate larger animals that they can cache and come back to later. The bobcat hunts by stalking or ambushing their prey and then pouncing or giving chase for short distances. Their main prey varies by region. In the eastern United States it is the cottontail rabbit. In the north it is the snowshoe hare.
The bobcat hunts animals of three different sizes, and will adjust its hunting techniques accordingly. On small animals they will hunt in areas known to be abundant in prey. They will lie, crouch, or stand still in wait for an animal to wander close. It will then pounce, grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. These are usually small rodents like mice and squirrels or birds, but also fish and insects. For slightly larger animals such as rabbits and hares, they will stalk from a covering and wait until they come within 20 to 35 feet (6 to 10 m) before rushing in to attack. Less commonly they will feed on larger animals such as foxes, minks, skunks, and house cats. They have been known to kill deer as well. This is especially true in winter when smaller prey is scarce, or when deer populations become more abundant.
Additionally, bobcats are agile, good climbers and well suited to gaining access to domestic farming operations such as chicken roosts.
The bobcat has no major predators other than man. The coyote has been known to be a direct predator of the bobcat, but has an unknown effect on their populations. Pumas and wolves may also occasionally kill bobcats when they get the chance. Death is due to a variety of causes, such as diseases, accidents, hunters, automobiles, and starvation. Kittens however may be hunted by several predators, including owls, foxes, and even male bobcats. The young are most likely to die shortly after leaving their mothers while still perfecting their hunting technique.
The bobcat has long been hunted and trapped by humans. They are listed in the CITES treaty which allows them to be hunted so long as doing so is not detrimental to their population. However bobcats have maintained a high population, even in the south where they are extensively hunted.
The original range of the bobcat was from southern Canada to 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 California. They will often inhabit areas near large cities. However they are thought to no longer exist in certain habitats such as western New York and Pennsylvania. They also do not exist in much of the Midwest, such as southern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, Iowa, and much of Missouri. Their activities are confined to well-defined territories that vary in size depending on sex, season, and distribution of prey.