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Who Are Bobcats?

The bobcat is one of 37 species comprising the Felidae family, the second largest family in the order Carnivora, and is one of four members of the Lynx genus, which also includes the Canada lynx (L. canadensis), the Iberian lynx (L. pardinus) and the Eurasian lynx (L. lynx). They are widely dispersed throughout North America, from southern Canada to southern Mexico. Currently there are 12 recognized subspecies—Florida bobcats belong to the L.r.floridanus subspecies. The bobcat’s genus name, Lynx, comes from the Greek word Leukos, meaning bright eyes—probably in reference to the tendency of Lynx eyes to reflect light. Rufus is Latin for red, in reference to the bobcat’s coloration. There are approximately 725,000 to 1,020,000 bobcats in the wilderness.

Bobcats look a lot like their closest relative, the lynx, but have shorter legs and smaller feet. They are shy, elusive, and mostly silent. However, they yowl and hiss during mating season, and when confronted by an enemy, they may snarl and spit when confronted by an enemy.

How Are Bobcats Classified?

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae (cats)
Genus: Lynx
Species: rufus (bobcat)
Subspecies (Southern U.S): floridanus

What Do They Look Like?

An adult bobcat is usually about two to three feet in length, including its tail, and it weighs 15 to 35 pounds. The bobcat’s skeleton is very similar to that of the domestic cat, but it is about twice as big as the average cat. They exhibit sexual size dimorphism with males typically larger and heavier than females. Bobcats from northern areas typically weigh more than those from the southern regions.

Bobcats’ fur color can be anything from light grey to yellowish brown to reddish or tawny brown. Their markings can be tabby cat-like stripes or spots—some bobcats have so many spots that they look almost black. A bobcat’s tail is usually short (or bobbed), and is often marked by two or three black bars with a black tip above and pale or white below. Their faces have broken black lines that radiate onto a broad cheek ruff and they have short ear tufts. Bobcats in the southern parts of their range are usually darker and smaller than those in the northern parts.

What Are Their Senses Like?

Bobcats have 28 teeth, with large canines that are structured to be efficient for stabbing and holding their prey. Bobcats have binocular vision, which is due to their large eyes that are set forward in their skulls. The unique placement of a bobcat’s eyes gives it good depth perception, allowing it to have accurate judging distance. Bobcats also have good peripheral vision and they see well in low light, since they are most active at night. Bobcats can also see colors, but it is believed that their ability to do so is much more limited than in humans.

Nevertheless, when bobcats cannot rely on their night vision, they need a good sense of touch to be able to locate their prey. Bobcats’ whiskers are very sensitive and are used to sense where prey are just before they bite—this allows them to protect their eyes by closing them, but still know the position of the prey animal.

In addition to their vision and sense of touch, bobcats have a powerful sense of smell that that they use to communicate with each other. They also have a good sense of hearing that they use to locate prey and to avoid dangerous situations. Bobcats can hear a much wider range of sound frequencies than humans can, and they can pivot their ears towards sounds for amplification. However, they do not have a well-developed sense of taste. They can taste sour, bitter, and salty flavors, but do not have receptors that are able to taste sweet.

What Kind of Tracks Do They Make?

The bobcat’s track (the indentation its paws makes in the ground) is round and about twice as big as the track of a domestic cat. You can see four toes but no claws, since bobcats walk on their toes. They have four toes on their hind feet and five on their front feet; the fifth is raised and appears to be vestigial. Bobcat toes are equipped with sharp claws. The claws are retracted into the paw when not in use, which helps them remain sharp. When bobcats need to use their claws for subduing prey or climbing a tree, they contract the muscles in their toes, extending their claws beyond their protective sheaths.

For more information, see the References and Further Reading page.