Bobcat characteristics, habitat, reproduction, nutrition

Basil Manning

The bobcat or Mexican wild catLynx rufus) is a North American mammal of the Felidae family. It is one of the four species of lynx recognized worldwide and one of the least threatened.

It is one of two species of lynx known in North America, along with the Canadian lynx Lynx canadensis. It is one of the most and best studied felines in the United States, however, many aspects of its biology remain unknown south of its distribution (Mexico).

Bobcat (Lynx rufus) By marlin harms [CC BY 2.0 (]

The bobcat has 12 recognized subspecies throughout its range, among which are L. r. rufus, baileyi, californicus, escuinapae, fasciatus, floridanus, gigas, oaxacensis, pallescens, peninsularis, superiorensis and texensis.

Lynxes, like a large part of felines, are solitary animals with a day and night pattern of activity. Many authors indicate that the lynx is an opportunistic predator, however, others affirm that this feline evolved as a predator specialized in the capture of lagomorphs..

Despite being primarily terrestrial, they climb very well due to the presence of well-developed retractable claws. The young and juveniles can hide in the trees while the mother is hunting..

Bobcats establish territories that can vary in size seasonally. Males usually have a larger territory, overlapping with that of several females. This territory tends to expand in the reproductive season and to reduce in females that have small offspring..

Furthermore, changes in the size of the territory are a reflection of the pattern of prey abundance. Males can hunt larger animals than females due to the difference in size between the sexes. However, the selection of smaller prey by females indicates that they feed on the most abundant prey in the habitat..

Article index

  • 1 General characteristics
  • 2 Habitat and distribution
    • 2.1 Habitat
    • 2.2 Distribution
    • 2.3 Conservation
  • 3 Playback
  • 4 Nutrition
  • 5 Behavior
    • 5.1 Territoriality
    • 5.2 Communication and effects of urine
  • 6 References

General characteristics

The bobcat is the smallest of the four species of lynx known worldwide. Lynx rufus it is a sexually dimorphic species, with males being larger than females.

These cats can reach sizes up to 63 cm high by 1.6 meters long, from head to tip of tail. They can weigh on average between 7 and 12 kg, although the records of some male specimens exceed 18 kg.

Its fur is reddish brown, slightly mottled with gray and black tones in the dorsal region. In the lateral region it is lighter and the mottling decreases towards the ventral region, which has a light hue with scattered black spots. This coloration allows a good camouflage with its natural habitat.

The extremities have a coloration similar to the dorsal region. The front legs have internally a pair of black bands that distinguish them from other species of the genus. The legs are long, the ears are pointed and the tail measures around 20 centimeters and is banded with a black tip..

Habitat and distribution


The bobcat occupies quite contrasting habitats. In the United States they occupy coniferous forests and mixed boreal forests, lowland hardwood forests, coastal swamps in the southeast, and deserts and scrublands to the southwest. In Mexico they can occupy dry scrub and grasslands, as well as tropical environments.

Altitude, they can occupy spaces from sea level to 3,500 meters of elevation. The habitats they occupy can vary from desert areas such as the Sonoran desert in Mexico, where they are very common, areas of shrubland (scrub), savannas, forests and areas with grasslands..

Those places with a high intervention in the form of crops are little used by these cats due to the low availability of prey. For this reason, they are more common in areas with dense vegetation, especially in the understory, where they establish stalking areas and their escape dens and care for young..


Distribution of the bobcat Lynx rufus By The author of the work and the IUCN Red List spatial data [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

Bobcats have a wide distribution in North America, occupying from southern Canada, a large part of the United States to the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, which is the southernmost limit of their distribution. It is the only species of lynx that occupies almost its entire historical distribution today.

Its absence towards the south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is probably due to the absence of prey and not to competition with ecologically similar species. This species seems to be expanding its distribution to the north, in Canada, as a result of the deforestation of natural forests.

With the application of camera traps, the presence of bobcats has been determined further north of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which has increased its extension more contrary to what was thought.

In the United States, during the 20th century, they were practically hunted to their elimination in the states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri due to habitat loss and exploitation. However, currently the populations in these states are recovering.

Part of its northern distribution overlaps with another, larger species of lynx, Lynx canadensis.


The population trends of this species are stable, however, some regionalized pressures can be a challenge for its conservation.

This species is included in the appendix II of CITES due to its trade. In the last 2 decades, it has been the most commercialized feline for its fur.

Hunting for the illegal fur trade, loss of habitats attributed to the growth of urbanized areas and deforestation activities are the main threats going forward..

On the other hand, they are also vulnerable to consuming poisoned rodents in cities and to genetic isolation caused by the breakdown in the continuity of habitats..

Bobcats rarely visit disturbed habitats, so it is very rare to see them outside of natural ecosystems. In some areas, such as Florida, their populations have strongly decreased due to the effect caused by the introduction of exotic species such as the Burmese pythons..

Conflicts with domestic animals such as cats and dogs are also a source of threat. They are also prone to the transmission of diseases in some populations in eastern Canada, and to being run over when they use the roads as passageways..


The males of this species reproduce with several females and in the reproductive season they usually expand their range of territorial movement. In this way, they increase the chances of reproducing with females that have territories that overlap with yours..

Males show a seasonal reduction in spermatogenic activity during the summer and early fall, but this pattern is reduced in mature males..

The mating season varies as altitude, longitude, latitude, and climatic variations change. Reproductive events can occur throughout the year, however there is a peak from August to December.

The female in the proestrus stage begins to mark strategic places with her urine to be detected by the males. Most births occur between April and May. Some females that reproduce early may have a second litter at the end of the year.

The litters can vary between 2 and 6 puppies that generally remain sheltered in their dens until three months of age. Breastfeeding can last between two and three months. Females take care of their young alone until they acquire the skills to hunt independently and delimit their own territory..

Bobcat in stalking position By Letartean [CC BY 3.0 (]


Bobcats have a fairly varied diet, consisting mainly of rabbits and other small rodents, but being less specialist than other species of bobcats such as Lynx canadenses.

The selection of the prey that this feline consumes depends to a large extent on the temporary availability they have in the territories they occupy..

Lagomorphs comprise, in many of the localities they occupy, more than 70% of the diet. The presence of rabbits is essential for a viable bobcat population to be established. Among the most consumed lagomorph species are Lepus sp, Romerolagus diazi, Sylvilagus audubonii, S. cunicularius, S. floridanus.

Additionally, lynxes can include more than 20 additional species in their diet. These include a large variety of small land rodents and a large diversity of squirrel species..

Males can capture large prey, including juvenile ungulates such as deer of the genus Odocoileus and other medium-sized mammals including possums, mustelids, procyonids, and porcupines.

They can also occasionally capture, when resources are limited, various species of birds and reptiles such as lizards and snakes. On the other hand, they can hunt pets such as dogs, cats and farm animals..


These animals generally have a slippery behavior. Due to this, much of the ecological information collected for this animal has been made from tools such as telemetry and the study of animals killed by sport hunting..


Male lynxes establish territories up to 1.65 times larger than those of females. The female territories range from almost 1 to 43 kmtwo while males occupy from 3 to almost 168 kmtwo with an average of 39.7 kmtwo. To protect their territory, they mark the trees with their claws or with stool and urine..

Females and males expand and contract their territory based on seasonality, with the largest territories being in both sexes during the winter season. Males occupy considerably larger territories during winter.

The densities of these cats vary according to the area they occupy. They tend to be favored in mid-mountain areas, with high scrub cover and steep areas with an abundance of conifers.

On the other hand, during winter, this feline tends to occupy areas where the layers of snow are not so thick. During this season, they tend to be seen more frequently in open areas such as roads, cliffs and fir forest plantations where there has been a greater number of indications of available prey.

Lynx rufus By Bighouse2015 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

Communication and effects of urine

The urine of these felines has a high content of sulfur compounds, resulting highly effective in modifying the feeding behavior of their prey..

These semiochemical compounds repel animals like Odocoileus hemionus, Odocoileus virginianus, Lepus americanus Y Marmot monax preventing them from causing damage to agroforestry plantations.

Also the pulverization of the urine in trees and rocks indicates the state of health, the reproductive condition and its presence before other specimens. This type of olfactory signals are the main communication mechanism.

Additionally, they have been observed rubbing their fur against the bark of trees and emitting vocalizations. These last aspects of their behavior remain little studied..


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