8 Fascinating Facts About Bobcats

Bobcat in the Snow
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The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is the most common wildcat in North America. The IUCN estimates the bobcat population to be between 2.3 million and 3.5 million. They are found in Mexico, five Canadian provinces, and every contiguous U.S. state other than Delaware. However, bobcats are elusive and are rarely seen across their range. This is due to their preference for finding cover wherever they live, whether that's scrubland, forests, swamps, or even the residential areas.

Bobcats are most easily identified by the tail that gives them their name. It has a cut or "bobbed" look and only measures 4.3 to 7.5 inches long.

1. They Are The Smallest Lynx

These medium-sized cats are similar to their cousin, the lynx, but are a bit smaller. Ranging anywhere from 8 to 33 pounds, these cats are about the size of a cocker spaniel. The bobcat is 25 to 42 inches long, not including the tail, and males are larger than females. Bobcats in more northern climates tend to grow larger than ones in the south.

2. They Are Frequently Misidentified

Bobcats are often erroneously identified as other animals. Sometimes they are mistaken for domestic cats or stray kittens. In other cases, people believe they see a Florida panther, Canada lynx, or mountain lion.

Even biologists sometimes have difficulty telling the Canada lynx and bobcat apart if they can't see a paw print. The Canada lynx has massive, very hairy feet that act as snowshoes.

3. They Mainly Eat Small Prey

While bobcats can tackle large prey such as deer, they subsist mostly on rodents and rabbits. Despite their reputation for eating household pets, they rarely choose them as prey. That said, they do occasionally take advantage of unsecured chickens or domestic pets. Bobcats will even eat sharks or fish.

Bobcats are crepuscular hunters, preferring to hunt at dusk and dawn. Depending on prey availability, they sometimes keep a more nocturnal hunting schedule. They are stealthy hunters and can pounce 10 feet in one leap.

4. They Are Territorial

Bobcats primarily live a solitary life. Their range size varies widely depending on the availability of suitable prey. Females typically have territories of around 6 square miles, while males' territories span about 25 square miles and may overlap with one or more female bobcats' home ranges.

Bobcats don't usually share territories with another cat of the same sex. They keep other bobcats out of their territory through scent marking with urine, feces, and anal gland secretions.

5. They Don't Stick to a Single Den

Bobcat at her red rock den
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Bobcats have various dens in their territory. The main one, called a natal den, is usually a cave or rock shelter. They sometimes choose hollowed-out trees, fallen trees, or take over abandoned beaver lodges and earthen burrows.

Bobcats keep auxiliary dens scattered across their territory, using them for cover or to keep kittens close by while hunting. These dens may consist of rock ledges, brush piles, and even stumps. Bobcats spray urine at the entrances of shelters to ward off intruders.

6. Bobcat Mothers Teach Their Young to Hunt

Mother and Young Bobcat
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Female bobcats deliver litters of one to six kittens, with younger bobcats producing fewer kittens. After birth, the young stay in the den for the first two months. The mother starts bringing prey to the kittens at the end of the first month. Once kittens emerge from the den, she shows them how to hunt while still providing them with food. By 11 months of age, the kittens are kicked out of mom's territory.

7. Some Bobcats Are in Trouble

Bobcat populations plummeted during the early 20th century because of the popularity of their fur. Since then, successful conservation measures led to the IUCN listing them as a species of least concern. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the Mexican bobcat as endangered, but it is not currently on the IUCN register.

Bobcats remain on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) index and, as such, are under trade restrictions. However, 38 states, seven Canadian provinces, and Mexico allow for some types of bobcat hunts. Thousands of bobcats are harvested for the fur industry each year, invasive pythons in Florida are decreasing their numbers in the Sunshine State, and rodenticides kill bobcats as they consume targeted species.

8. They Can Run Very Fast

Bobcat (Lynx rufus), adult animal with 2 young subadults in the snow, Montana, USA
Jorn Friederich / Getty Images

Bobcats run at speeds of up to 30 mph. They are more sprinters than distance runners, as they only run for short distances when attempting to capture prey. Their hunting running gait is another way that a bobcat lives up to its name: they sometimes run like a rabbit, placing their hind feet in the same place as their front feet. This style of running creates a bobbing appearance when they run.

Save the Bobcats

  • Don't buy items made with bobcat fur.
  • Avoid using rodenticides to manage vermin.
  • Don't release pet pythons into the wild.
  • Support bobcat research and conservation organizations.