Bobcat

What is a bobcat?

Bobcats have smaller bodies than their feline cousins- with spotted fur and deep low growl it’s not a mystery as to why people confuse them with baby cougars. These medium sized cats have distinct black tipped stub tails, about 6 inches long, with tufted ears. If that isn’t enough information to spot them, they walk like a well trained ballerina… on their toes!

Surrounding a bobcat’s eyes are distinct white lines, accentuating their eyes and making them seem bigger. Their back legs are longer than their front legs. This allows them to put more power into running and jumping, which helps them catch their prey. 

At eight weeks of age, a bobcat’s ears are black with a distinctive white patch in the center. Bobcats do not have the highly distinct ear tufts of the lynx, a close feline relative.

Adult bobcats also have a distinctive “ruff” around their face, so that they can appear to have puffy cheeks or a slicked back look depending on their mood. 

Biology

The iconic marker of the bobcat is its short tail. The cropped tail is still a matter for discussion among scientists. The tips of a bobcat’s ear contains hair like tassels, called tufts. The purpose of these extended clusters of hair are still being studied. Scientists have found that they may detect movement from above and may also help improve the bobcats hearing.

At a weight of only 11 to 30 pounds, bobcats can leap into the air up to 12 feet off the ground and can cover 10 feet of distance with one leap. You'll be impressed at how agile these cats are when leaping into the air to catch prey.

Bobcats take off running at 25-30 miles per hour. This isn’t sustained over distance and use this speed only in short bursts.

Bobcats have litters of 2-4 kittens. They are typically born from March to July with some late litters extending to October. After birth kittens are blind with spotted fur, weighing around ⅔ of a pound. It takes 6-10 days for the kittens to open their eyes. The litter will continue to nurse for 2 months before eating prey their mother brings home.

At 3 to 5 months old, the bobcat kittens join mom on nightly hunts, learning to hone their stalking and hunting skills. They usually stay with their mom for the first year.

Evolution

The bobcats's ancestral line goes back to a meat eating, tree dwelling mammal called Miacids. It lived between 39-60 million years ago. Around 40 million years ago it split into two groups, one being the “cat-like” group.

Ecological role

The bobcat diet does consist of small mammals and play a critical role in keeping rodent populations balanced. Though birds, reptiles and deer can make it onto the bobcat dinner plate, their diet consists mainly of rabbits, gophers, rodents, and ground squirrels. This makes bobcats great neighbors.

Habitat

Throughout the seasons bobcats occupy different environments. In winter, bobcats are influenced by the snowpack and make their way to warmer environments; usually arid south-southwest facing slopes with open rocky terrain.

Bobcats use steep cliffs and rocky outcroppings that afford them a degree of protection. They can also be found using human made trails and roads. In higher elevation where it snows, like Great Basin National Park, bobcats will find their way around using fallen logs, other animal trails (game trails), and snowmobile tracks.

They are territorial and must walk their range regularly to keep it defended from other bobcats of the same sex.

Territory & behavior

Bobcats are solitary felines and rarely share their home. During mating season male bobcats overlap their home range with up to three different females. The size of a bobcats home ranges greatly depends on species population, number of mates, safety areas for resting and reproducing, and availability of food.

A male bobcat will generally have a home range that is double the size of the females, or even more! The size of bobcat territories fluctuate dramatically depending on the landscape and surrounding development. In highly urbanized, fragmented areas, male bobcats can have ranges of only three square miles. Females can even have territories of one square mile.

The amount of bobcats in an area can effect the size of these ranges. If there are less bobcats in an environment, the boundaries enlarge. On the contrary, if there is a high density of bobcats in an area then individual’s territories get smaller.

Bobcats don’t actually utilize their entire territory at once. They will have circulating routes that will allow them to explore their range over time – this helps maintain a balance in their prey population. Every one to three weeks the bobcat will change its routine. Being nocturnal hunters, they cycle through areas within their home range in the late hours of the night. Bobcats seem to know when they’ve hunted enough in any particular area, triggering the them to move on to a different part in their range.

Threats

Aside from habitat loss, bobcats face the fallout of human activity. Rat poisons are one of the biggest threats. Households, businesses, golf courses, agriculture and industries place rat poisons (rodenticides) in the environment. These toxins accumulate in the food web, creating illness and death in animals such as foxes, coyotes, birds of prey, and mountain lions.

 

The Bobcat Blog

Read fun facts about bobcats in Nevada.
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