The Bobcat (Lynx rufus), occasionally known as the Bay Lynx, is a North American mammal of the cat family, Felidae. With twelve recognized subspecies, it ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico, including much of the continental United States. The Bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as semi-desert, urban edge, and swampland environments. It persists in much of its original range and populations are healthy.
With a gray to brown coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the Bobcat resembles the other species of the mid-sized Lynx genus. It is smaller than the Canadian Lynx, with whom it shares parts of its range, but 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 will hunt anything from insects and small rodents to deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Like most cats, the Bobcat is territorial and largely solitary, although there is 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 the spring and has a gestation period of about two months.
The Bobcat has been subject to extensive hunting by humans, both for sport and fur, but its population has proven resilient. The elusive predator has featured in Native American mythology and the folklore of European settlers.
Johnson et al. report that Lynx shared a clade with the Puma, leopard cat (Prionailurus), and domestic cat (Felis) lineages, dated to 7.15 Ma; Lynx diverged first, approximately 3.24 Ma. (There are significant confidence intervals for both figures.)
The Bobcat is believed to have evolved from the Eurasian Lynx, which crossed into North America by way of the Bering land bridge during the Pleistocene, with progenitors arriving as much as 2.6 Ma. The first wave moved into the southern portion of North America, which was soon cut off from the north by glaciers. This population evolved into modern Bobcats around 20,000 years ago. A second population arrived from Asia and settled in the north, creating the modern Canadian Lynx. Hybridization with the Canadian Lynx may sometimes occur.
The subspecies division has been challenged, given a lack of clear geographic breaks in the Bobcat range and the minor character of differences between subspecies.
The face appears wide due to ruffs of extended hair beneath the ears. The fur is brittle but quite long and dense. The nose of the Bobcat is pinkish-red, and it has a base color of gray, yellowish, or brownish-red on its face, sides, and back. Bobcat eyes are yellow with black pupils. The pupils are shaped vertically and will widen during nocturnal activity to maximize light reception.
The adult male Bobcat is 28 to 47 inches (70-120 cm) long, averaging 36 inches (90 cm); this includes a stubby 4 to 7 inch (10-18 cm) tail, which has a "bobbed" appearance and gives the species its name. It stands about 14 or 15 inches (36-38 cm) at the shoulders. Adult males usually range from 16 to 30 pounds (7-14 kg); females average about 20 pounds (9 kg). 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 pounds (280-340 g) and is about 10 inches (25 cm) in length. By its first year it will reach about 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
The cat is largest size 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.
The cat has sharp hearing and vision, and a good sense of smell. It is also an excellent climber. The Bobcat will swim when it needs to, but will normally avoid water. A few melanistic bobcats have been sighted and captured in Florida. They appear black, but may actually still exhibit a spot pattern.
Like all cats, the Bobcat directly registers, meaning its hind prints usually fall exactly on top of its fore prints (not seen in photograph). Bobcat tracks can be generally distinguished from feral or house cat tracks by their larger size: approximately 2 in² (5 cm²) versus 1.5 in² (3.8 cm²).
Social structure and home range
The sizes of Bobcat home ranges vary significantly; a World Conservation Union (IUCN) summary of research finds suggests ranges anywhere from 0.02 to 126 mi² (0.6 to 326 km²). One study in Kansas found resident males to have roughly a 8 mi² (20 km²) range and females less than half that. Transient Bobcats were found to have both a larger (roughly 22 mi² or 57 km²) and less well defined home range. Kittens had the smallest range at about 3 mi² (7 km²) Research has shown that dispersal from the natal range is most pronounced with males.
Reports on seasonal variation in range size have been equivocal. One study found a large variation in male range sizes, from 16 mi² (41 km²) in summer up to 40 mi²(100 km²) in winter. Another found that female Bobcats, especially those reproductively active, expanded their home range in winter, but that males merely shifted their range without expanding it, which was consistent with numerous earlier studies. Other research in various American states has shown little or no seasonal variation.
Like most felines, the Bobcat is largely solitary but ranges will often overlap. Unusually for a cat, males are more tolerant of overlap, while females rarely wander into others' ranges. Given their smaller ranging, 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.
In-line with wide estimates of home range size, population density figures are divergent, anywhere from 1 to 38 Bobcats per 25 mi² (65 km²) in one survey. The average is estimated at one Bobcat per every 5 mi² (13 km²), or slightly less. A link has been observed between population density and sex ratio. One study noted that a dense, un-harvested population in California had a sex ratio of 2.1 males per female. When the density decreased, the sex ratio skewed to 0.86 males per female. Another study observed a similar ratio, and suggested that males may be better able to cope with the increased competition, and that this would help limit reproduction until various factors would lower the density.
Hunting and diet
The Bobcat hunts animals of different sizes, and will adjust its hunting techniques accordingly. With small animals, such as rodents, squirrels, birds, and also fish and insects, it will hunt in areas known to be abundant in prey, and will lie, crouch, or stand still and wait for victims to wander close. It will then pounce, grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. For slightly larger animals, such as rabbits and hares, it 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 it will feed on larger animals such as foxes, minks, skunks, small dogs and house cats.
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 were fawns (33 of 39) but that 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 through the throat, base of the skull, or chest. While the Bobcat rarely kills deer, when it does 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 mid-sized 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 amongst simultaneously monitored animals. With the Canadian Lynx, however, the inter-specific relationship affects distribution patterns: competitive exclusion from the Bobcat likely prevented any further southward expansion of the range of its felid cousin.
Reproduction and life cycle
They generally begin breeding by their second summer, though females may start as early as their first year. Each year by September or October, sperm production begins, and the male will be fertile into the summer. A dominant male will travel with a female and mate with her several times, generally from winter until early spring, varying by location, but most often mating during February and March. The two may undertake a number of different behaviors, including bumping, chasing, and ambushing. Other males may be in attendance, but remain uninvolved. 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, and males will 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 that 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. There may sometimes be a second litter, with births as late as September. The female generally gives birth in some sort of 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 will be hunting by themselves by their first fall and usually disperse shortly thereafter. In Michigan, however, they have been observed staying with their mother as late as the next spring.
Predators and mortality
Diseases, accidents, hunters, automobiles, and starvation are the other leading causes of death. Juveniles show high mortality shortly after leaving their mothers, while still perfecting their hunting technique. One study of fifteen Bobcats showed yearly survival rates for both sexes averaged 0.62, in line with other research suggesting 0.56 to 0.67. There have also been reports of cannibalism occurring when prey levels are low, but it is very rare and does not significantly influence the population.
The Bobcat may harbor external parasites, mostly ticks and fleas, and will often carry the parasites of its prey, especially rabbits and squirrels. Internal parasites (Endoparasites) are especially common in Bobcats. One study found an average infection rate of 52% from Toxoplasma gondii, but with great regional variation. One mite in particular, Lynxacarus morlani, has to date only been found on the Bobcat. It is still unclear how large a role parasites and diseases play in the mortality of the Bobcat, but they may account for greater mortality than starvation, accidents, and predation.
Distribution and habitat
The Bobcat's range does not seem to be limited by human populations as long as it can still find a suitable habitat; only large, intensively cultivated tracts are unsuitable for the species. The animal may appear in backyards in "urban edge" environments, where human development intersects with natural habitats. If chased by a dog it will usually climb up a tree.
The historical range of the Bobcat was from southern Canada, throughout the United States, and as far south as Oaxaca, Mexico, and it still persists across much of this area. Range maps typically show a pocket of territory in the U.S. Midwest and parts of the Northeast where it is no longer thought to exist, including southern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, Iowa, 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 have been recently reported in New York's Southern Tier and in central New York.
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 will hole up and wait out heavy storms; it lacks the large, padded feet of the Canadian Lynx and does not 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 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.
Though the Bobcat once inhabited all of the American Midwest, they are now extirpated in much of the region, a result of man-made habitat changes. Today the species is considered endangered in Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. It was removed from the threatened list of Illinois in 1999, and in Pennsylvania limited hunting and trapping is once again allowed, after having been banned from 1970 to 1999. The Bobcat also suffered population declines in New Jersey at the turn of the nineteenth century, mainly because of commercial and agricultural developments causing habitat fragmentation; by 1972, the Bobcat was given full legal protection, and listed as endangered in the state in 1991. L. rufus escuinipae, the subspecies found in Mexico, was for a time considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but was de-listed in 2005.
Human hunting and trapping
In a specific instance of the Bobcat appearing in Native American mythology, a Shawnee tale relates the reason for the its spots, wherein the Bobcat is outwitted by a rabbit. After trapping the rabbit in a tree, the Bobcat is persuaded into building a fire, only to have the embers scattered onto his fur, leaving it singed with dark brown spots. Mohave believed dreaming habitually of beings or objects would afford them their characteristics as supernatural powers. Dreaming of two deities, the Cougar and Lynx, they thought, would grant them the superior hunting skills of other tribes. European settlers to the Americas also admired the cat, both for its ferocity and grace, and in the United States it "rests prominently in the anthology of our national folklore."
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