The Cat Survival Trust

The Bobcat

Felis (Lynx) rufus Schreber

Photo: Terry Moore


  • Description
  • Distribution
  • Diet
  • Behaviour
  • Reproduction
  • Conservation Status
  • Captive Breeding and Bobcats in Captivity
  • Further Reading

  • Other names

     English:Bay lynx, Red lynx
     French:Lynx roux
     Spanish:lince rojo


    The name bobcat is an abbreviation of bob-tailed cat, which refers to its short, dark ringed tail. Bobcats have also been called “wild cats”. Closely related to the lynxes the bobcat has the same facial ruff and tufted ears. They are however, much smaller than the lynxes, their legs are proportionally more slender and the feet are also relatively much smaller. Again, unlike the lynx, the pads of the feet are not covered with hair.
    The eponymous tail is tipped with black, but unlike the true lynxes it is white on the underside.
    Bobcats do not have anterior upper premolars.
    Bobcat coats are various shades of buff-brown and are marked with dark spots. The fur on the back is usually darker and the crown of the head is streaked. A white central spot provides a contrast on the back of the black ears. Some melanistic or all-black specimens have been described.
    The largest bobcats have been recorded from the northern outposts of their range and, conversely, the smallest in southernmost areas. No lynx/bobcat hybrids have been reported, despite their similarities and proximity in certain parts of their distributions. There is evidence that bobcats colonised North America before the lynx.
    Long known as a member of the genus Felis, the most recent review of cat taxonomy emphasises the separate status of the lynxes (Wozencraft 1993).
    11 subspecies of bobcats have been described:
    F. (L.) r. rufus North Dakota to east Oklahoma and East coast
    F. (L.) r. baileyiSoutheast California to Durango and west Kansas
    F. (L.) r. californicusCalifornia
    F. (L.) r. escuinapaeCentral Mexico
    F. (L.) r. fasciatusSouthern British Columbia to northwest California
    F. (L.) r. floridanusEast Louisiana, Arkansas to Florida and South Carolina
    F. (L.) r. gigasMaine and Borders
    F. (L.) r. pallescens/unitaBritish Columbia to Nevada and Colorado
    F. (L.) r. peninsularisBaja California
    F. (L.) r. superiorensisMinnesota, North Wisconsin, Michigan, south Ontario
    F. (L.) r. texensisTexas to northeast Mexico

    Principal Dimensions

    Head and Body lengths (cm) 69-7961-71
    Height at Shoulder (cm)45-58  
    Tail lengths (cm)11-2013-2011-14
    Weights (Kg) 5-314-15
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    Distribution and Habitats

    The bobcat is confined almost exclusively to the contiguous 48 states of the USA. It is historically present in all of them. The range extends south into Mexico to the river Mescale at 18° North Latitude and north to 50° North Latitude in Canada. In the Rockies they extend slightly further north.
    Bobcats are found in pine forests, mountainous regions, semi-deserts and scrublands, and subtropical swamps. They are unable to survive on the treeless Canadian prairies, or at altitudes higher than 3,600 metres. They climb trees and rocky areas as refuges.
    The map shows the present distribution of Bobcats in grey.
    The map is based on information in the Wild Cats Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan published by the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group in 1996. See our Books page for more details.
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    While the Canadian lynx is almost wholly dependent upon the snowshoe hare for its food, the bobcat is not so restricted in its diet. Bobcats are opportunists and will eat arthropods (grasshoppers, beetles, crayfish), prairie dogs, porcupines, bats, peccaries, snakes (even rattlesnakes) and birds. They are known to take domestic cats, carrion, grass, and fruit like cactus apples and cultivated grapes and pears. Bobcats have been known to become food for pumas and coyotes.
    Diets vary by region and season. In one study, where cotton rats and cotton-tail rabbits were extremely abundant, the bobcats were recorded to prey on only seven species. When these populations crashed, prey selection expanded to 21 different species. Male bobcats are capable of killing deer, particularly white-tailed deer. Female and young bobcats are restricted to smaller animals. This reduces a certain degree of competition between the sexes.
    A 75 kg deer is suffocated as the cat bites through its trachea. Smaller animals are bitten an the back of the neck. Winter snow makes running difficult for the deer, so they become vulnerable to bobcat predation. In snow, male bobcats can maintain or even improve their body condition, unlike the females whose condition declines.
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    Bobcats have responded to human persecution by becoming more active at night. They are rather more diurnal further away from human settlements and during the winter months. They occupy dens in crevices, rocks, hollow trees or thickets. Bobcats are strong swimmers and will rest in trees, sometimes on birds nests. Bobcats respond to the chemicals in catmint in the same way domestic cats do. Catmint has been used to trap them.
    Social behaviour is restricted to reproduction only. Adult males do not play a part in rearing the young but on occasions they have been observed with the mother and her offspring.
    Females maintain small and exclusive territories (about one to 60 km2). Males tend to roam widely and do not establish core areas. Male home ranges overlap and have been measured from two to more than 200 km2. Ranges are not necessarily continuous, they may use certain places which are only connected by pathways. Boundaries are delineated by scent marking with urine sprays and faeces. Bobcats have small scent glands on each side of the anus. Young animals do not scent mark so they can avoid drawing attention to themselves. Facial hair patches are used in threat displays.
    In severe winter weather two adult males and one female were observed to be inhabiting the same rock pile for two weeks. Despite this proximity each individual had its own separate entrance and hunting area. Generally they do not return to specific den sites, but sleep in various places in their home ranges.
    Food availability determines the distributions of the majority of animals. In Florida densities of 500 bobcats per 100 km2 have been estimated. Further north in Minnesota, four to five individuals per 100 km2 seems to be typical. It is more difficult to find sufficient food in colder areas, as more is needed to survive.
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    Three or four kittens are usually born in a litter, after a gestation period of between 50 to 70 days. Six to a litter has been known. They are marked conspicuously and weigh about 280 to 340 grammes at birth. By nine days the kittens’ eyes are open. Suckling for about two months, they go on their first hunting trips a month or so later. They stay with their mother for a year.
    Young bobcats become sexually mature by 18 months. If the litter is lost, the female may come into oestrus again. Oestrus lasts for seven days. Male cats from cold climates may also be seasonal in that they will only produce sperm during the breeding season.
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    Conservation Status

    When trade in most of the spotted cat skins was banned under Appendix I of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the bobcat and lynx became targets for the furriers. Bobcats are now on Appendix II which allows licensed international commerce (Conservation and Legal Status of Wild Cats. Cat News 12, 1990, p. 26). L. r. escuinapae was the only subspecies which was placed on Appendix I of CITES, but was downgraded because its specific status was questionable and was reported to be common in Mexico (Leopards, Cheetahs, Bobcats, Geoffroy’s Cat and a Tiger Farm. Cat News 16, 1992, p.24). Bobcats seem to be increasingly exploited for their fur. More than 140,000 pelts were recorded as traded in 1980.
    Bobcats have been observed to have moved north to fill the areas formerly occupied by lynxes. The distributions of the two species overlap. The smaller animals show much greater adaptability when there is a food shortage, because they wander more and require less. Although they are shy and secretive, bobcats are more tolerant of human presence than lynx.
    Although threatened by persecution and habitat destruction, bobcat populations are relatively numerous. There are many in captivity. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) do not consider the bobcat to be significantly threatened, and it is not listed by them. Hunting quotas are strictly enforced in the United States, but bobcats are open to excessive exploitation.

    Bobcats in California

    An interesting article on bobcats in California is on the Desert USA Web site.

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    Captive Breeding and Bobcats in Captivity

    Zoos with Bobcats

    Back to Wild Cats of the World Back to CST Home Page

    Last revision 4th December, 1999

    © September 1996 The Cat Survival Trust, The Centre, Codicote Road, Welwyn, AL6 9TU, England.
    Telephone: +44 (0)1438 716873Fax: +44 (0)1438 717535