The bobcat is a North American cat that appeared during the Irvingtonian stage of around 1.8 million years ago
(AEO). Containing 12 recognized subspecies, it ranges from southern Canada to central Mexico, including most of
the continental United States. The bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as
semidesert, urban edge, forest edge, and swampland environments. It remains in some of its original range, but
populations are vulnerable to local extinction ("extirpation") by coyotes and domestic animals. With a gray to
brown coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the bobcat resembles the other species of the midsized Lynx
genus. It is smaller on average than the Canada lynx, with which it shares parts of its range, but is about
twice as large as the domestic cat. It has distinctive black bars on its forelegs and a black-tipped, stubby
tail, from which it derives its name.
Though the bobcat prefers rabbits and hares, it hunts insects, chickens, geese and other birds, small rodents,
and deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Like most cats, the bobcat is
territorial and largely solitary, although with some overlap in home ranges. It uses several methods to mark its
territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces. The bobcat breeds from winter into
spring and has a gestation period of about two months.
Although bobcats have been hunted extensively by humans, both for sport and fur, their population has proven
resilient though declining in some areas. The elusive predator features in Native American mythology and the
folklore of European settlers.
The bobcat resembles other species of the Lynx genus, but is on average the smallest of the four. Its coat is
variable, though generally tan to grayish-brown, with black streaks on the body and dark bars on the forelegs
and tail. Its spotted patterning acts as camouflage. The ears are black-tipped and pointed, with short, black
tufts. Generally, an off-white color is seen on the lips, chin, and underparts. Bobcats in the desert regions
of the southwest have the lightest-colored coats, while those in the northern, forested regions are darkest.
Kittens are born well-furred and already have their spots. A few melanistic bobcats have been sighted and
captured in Florida. They appear black, but may still exhibit a spot pattern.
The face appears wide due to ruffs of extended hair beneath the ears. Bobcat eyes are yellow with black pupils.
The nose of the bobcat is pinkish-red, and it has a base color of gray or yellowish- or brownish-red on its
face, sides, and back. The pupils are round, black circles and will widen during nocturnal activity to maximize
light reception. The cat has sharp hearing and vision, and a good sense of smell. It is an excellent climber,
and swims when it needs to, but normally avoids water. However, cases of bobcats swimming long distances across
lakes have been recorded.
The adult bobcat is 47.5 to 125 cm (18.7 to 49.2 in) long from the head to the base of the tail, averaging 82.7
cm (32.6 in); the stubby tail adds 9 to 20 cm (3.5 to 7.9 in) and its "bobbed" appearance gives the species
its name. An adult stands about 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 in) at the shoulders. Adult males can range in weight from
6.4 to 18.3 kg (14 to 40 lb), with an average of 9.6 kg (21 lb); females at 4 to 15.3 kg (8.8 to 33.7 lb), with
an average of 6.8 kg (15 lb). The largest bobcat accurately measured on record weighed 22.2 kg (49 lb), although
unverified reports have them reaching 27 kg (60 lb). Furthermore, a June 20, 2012 report of a New Hampshire
roadkill specimen listed the animal's weight at 27 kg (60 lb). The largest-bodied bobcats are from eastern
Canada and northern New England of the subspecies L. r. gigas, while the smallest are from the southeastern
subspecies L. r. floridanus, particularly those in the southern Appalachians. The bobcat is muscular, and its
hind legs are longer than its front legs, giving it a bobbing gait. At birth, it weighs 0.6 to 0.75 lb (270 to
340 g) and is about 10 in (25 cm) in length. By its first birthday, it weighs about 10 lb (4.5 kg).
The cat is larger in its northern range and in open habitats. A morphological size comparison study in the
eastern United States found a divergence in the location of the largest male and female specimens, suggesting
differing selection constraints for the sexes.
Distribution and habitat
The bobcat is an adaptable animal. It prefers woodlands-deciduous, coniferous, or mixed-but unlike the other
Lynx species, it does not depend exclusively on the deep forest. It ranges from the humid swamps of Florida to
desert lands of Texas or rugged mountain areas. It makes its home near agricultural areas, if rocky ledges,
swamps, or forested tracts are present; its spotted coat serves as camouflage. The population of the bobcat
depends primarily on the population of its prey; other principal factors in the selection of habitat type
include protection from severe weather, availability of resting and den sites, dense cover for hunting and
escape, and freedom from disturbance.
The bobcat's range does not seem to be limited by human populations, as long as it can find a suitable habitat;
only large, intensively cultivated tracts are unsuitable for the species. The animal may appear in back yards
in "urban edge" environments, where human development intersects with natural habitats. If chased by a dog, it
usually climbs up a tree.
The historical range of the bobcat was from southern Canada, throughout the United States, and as far south as
the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and it still persists across much of this area. In the 20th century, it was
thought to have lost territory in the US Midwest and parts of the Northeast, including southern Minnesota,
eastern South Dakota, and much of Missouri, mostly due to habitat changes from modern agricultural practices.
While thought to no longer exist in western New York and Pennsylvania, multiple confirmed sightings of bobcats
(including dead specimens) have been recently reported in New York's Southern Tier and in central New York.
In addition, bobcat sightings have been confirmed in northern Indiana, and one was recently killed near Albion,
Michigan. In early March, 2010, a bobcat was sighted (and later captured by animal control authorities) in a
parking garage in downtown Houston. By 2010, bobcats appear to have recolonized many states, occurring in every
state except Delaware.
Its population in Canada is limited due to both snow depth and the presence of the Canadian lynx. The bobcat
does not tolerate deep snow, and waits out heavy storms in sheltered areas; it lacks the large, padded feet of
the Canadian lynx and cannot support its weight on snow as efficiently. The bobcat is not entirely at a
disadvantage where its range meets that of the larger felid: displacement of the Canadian lynx by the aggressive
bobcat has been observed where they interact in Nova Scotia, while the clearing of coniferous forests for
agriculture has led to a northward retreat of the Canadian lynx's range to the advantage of the bobcat.
In northern and central Mexico, the cat is found in dry scrubland and forests of pine and oak; its range ends at
the tropical southern portion of the country.
The bobcat is crepuscular. It keeps on the move from three hours before sunset until about midnight, and then
again from before dawn until three hours after sunrise. Each night, it moves from 2 to 7 mi (3.2 to 11.3 km)
along its habitual route. This behavior may vary seasonally, as bobcats become more diurnal during fall and
winter in response to the activity of their prey, which are more active during the day in colder weather.
Reproduction and life cycle
The average Bobcat lifespan is 7 years long and rarely exceeds 10 years. The oldest wild Bobcat on record was 16
years old, and the oldest captive Bobcat lived to be 32.
Bobcats generally begin breeding by their second summer, though females may start as early as their first year.
Sperm production begins each year by September or October, and the male is fertile into the summer. A dominant
male travels with a female and mates with her several times, generally from winter until early spring; this
varies by location, but most mating takes place during February and March. The pair may undertake a number of
different behaviors, including bumping, chasing, and ambushing. Other males may be in attendance, but remain
uninvolved. Once the male recognizes the female is receptive, he grasps her in the typical felid neck grip and
mates with her. The female may later go on to mate with other males, and males generally mate with several
females. During courtship, the otherwise silent bobcat may let out loud screams, hisses, or other sounds.
Research in Texas has suggested establishing a home range is necessary for breeding; studied animals with no set
range had no identified offspring. The female has an estrous cycle of 44 days, with the estrus lasting five to
ten days. Bobcats remain reproductively active throughout their lives.
The female raises the young alone. One to six, but usually two to four, kittens are born in April or May, after
roughly 60 to 70 days of gestation. Sometimes, a second litter is born as late as September. The female
generally gives birth in an enclosed space, usually a small cave or hollow log. The young open their eyes by the
ninth or tenth day. They start exploring their surroundings at four weeks and are weaned at about two months.
Within three to five months, they begin to travel with their mother. They hunt by themselves by fall of their
first year, and usually disperse shortly thereafter. In Michigan, however, they have been observed staying with
their mother as late as the next spring.
Hunting and diet
The bobcat is able to survive for long periods without food, but eats heavily when prey is abundant. During lean
periods, it often preys on larger animals on which it can kill and return to feed later. The bobcat hunts by
stalking its prey and then ambushing it with a short chase or pounce. Its preference is for mammals weighing
about 1.5 to 12.5 lb (0.68 to 5.67 kg). Its main prey varies by region. In the eastern United States, it is the
eastern cottontail species, and in the north it is the snowshoe hare. When these prey species exist together,
as in New England, they are the primary food sources of the bobcat. In the far south, the rabbits and hares are
sometimes replaced by cotton rats as the primary food source. Birds up to the size of a swan are also taken,
along with their fledglings and eggs. The bobcat is an opportunistic predator that, unlike the more specialized
Canada lynx, readily varies its prey selection. Diet diversification positively correlates to a decline in
numbers of the bobcat's principal prey; the abundance of its main prey species is the main determinant of
The bobcat hunts animals of different sizes, and adjusts its hunting techniques accordingly. With small animals,
such as rodents (including squirrels), birds, fish including small sharks, and insects, it hunts in areas known
to be abundant in prey, and will lie, crouch, or stand, and wait for victims to wander close. It then pounces,
grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. For slightly larger animals, such as geese, rabbits, and
hares, it stalks from cover and waits until prey comes within 20 to 35 ft (6.1 to 10.7 m) before rushing in to
attack. Less commonly, it feeds on larger animals, such as young ungulates, and other carnivores, such as
fishers (primarily female), foxes, minks, skunks, small dogs, and domesticated cats. Bobcats are considered the
major predatory threat to the endangered whooping crane. Bobcats are also occasional hunters of livestock and
poultry. While larger species, such as cattle and horses, are not known to be attacked, bobcats do present a
threat to smaller ruminants, such as sheep and goats. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service,
bobcats killed 11,100 sheep in 2004, comprising 4.9% of all sheep predator deaths. However, some amount of
bobcat predation may be misidentified, as bobcats have been known to scavenge on the remains of livestock
kills by other animals.
It has been known to kill deer, especially in winter when smaller prey is scarce, or when deer populations
become more abundant. One study in the Everglades showed a large majority of kills (33 of 39) were fawns, but
prey up to eight times the bobcat's weight could be successfully taken. It stalks the deer, often when the deer
is lying down, then rushes in and grabs it by the neck before biting the throat, base of the skull, or chest.
On the rare occasions a bobcat kills a deer, it eats its fill and then buries the carcass under snow or leaves,
often returning to it several times to feed.
The bobcat prey base overlaps with that of other midsized predators of a similar ecological niche. Research in
Maine has shown little evidence of competitive relationships between the bobcat and coyote or red fox;
separation distances and territory overlap appeared random among simultaneously monitored animals. However,
other studies have found bobcat populations may decrease in areas with high coyote populations, with the more
social inclination of the canid giving them a possible competitive advantage. With the Canada lynx, however,
the interspecific relationship affects distribution patterns; competitive exclusion by the bobcat is likely to
have prevented any further southward expansion of the range of its felid relative.
It is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES), which means it is not considered threatened with extinction, but hunting and trading must be
closely monitored. The animal is regulated in all three of its range countries, and is found in a number of
protected areas of the United States, its principal territory. Estimates from the US Fish and Wildlife Service
placed bobcat numbers between 700,000 and 1,500,000 in the US in 1988, with increased range and population
density suggesting even greater numbers in subsequent years; for these reasons, the U.S. has petitioned CITES
to remove the cat from Appendix II. Populations in Canada and Mexico remain stable and healthy. The IUCN lists
it as a species of least concern, noting it is relatively widespread and abundant, but information from
southern Mexico is poor. The species is considered endangered in Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey. It was removed
from the threatened list of Illinois in 1999 and of Iowa in 2003. In Pennsylvania, limited hunting and
trapping are once again allowed, after having been banned from 1970 to 1999. The bobcat also suffered
population decline in New Jersey at the turn of the 19th century, mainly because of commercial and
agricultural developments causing habitat fragmentation; by 1972, the bobcat was given full legal protection,
and was listed as endangered in the state in 1991. L. r. escuinipae, the subspecies found in Mexico, was for a
time considered endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but was delisted in 2005.
The bobcat has long been valued both for fur and sport; it has been hunted and trapped by humans, but has
maintained a high population, even in the southern United States, where it is extensively hunted. In the
1970s and 1980s, an unprecedented rise in price for bobcat fur caused further interest in hunting, but by the
early 1990s, prices had dropped significantly. Regulated hunting still continues, with half of mortality of
some populations being attributed to this cause. As a result, the rate of bobcat deaths is skewed in winter,
when hunting season is generally open.
Urbanization can result in the fragmentation of contiguous natural landscapes into patchy habitat within an
urban area. Animals that live in these fragmented areas often have reduced movement between the habitat patches,
which can lead to reduced gene flow and pathogen transmission between patches. Animals such as the bobcat are
particularly sensitive to fragmentation because of their large home ranges. A study in coastal Southern
California has shown bobcat populations are affected by urbanization, creation of roads, and other developments.
The populations may not be declining as much as predicted, but instead the connectivity of different populations
is affected. This leads to a decrease in natural genetic diversity among bobcat populations. For bobcats,
preserving open space in sufficient quantities and quality is necessary for population viability. Educating
local residents about the animals is critical, as well, for conservation in urban areas.
In bobcats using urban habitats in California, the use of rodenticides has been linked to both secondary
poisoning by consuming poisoned rats and mice, and to increased rates of severe mite infestation
(known as notoedric mange), as an animal with a poison-weakened immune system is less capable of fighting off
mange. Liver autopsies in California bobcats that have succumbed to notoedric mange have revealed chronic
rodenticide exposure. Alternative rodent control measures such as vegetation control and use of traps have been
suggested to alleviate this issue.