Bobcats live all across the United States, and yet many of us don’t know that much about them. These beautiful creatures are quite shy and won’t often show themselves to humans.
Bobcats are part of the cat family and even look similar to house cats in some aspects. However, they are much more powerful and athletic than their domestic cousins. These independent wild cats can leap, sprint, climb, and even swim to get to their prey.
Besides their amazing hunting skills, bobcats have many more fascinating qualities that you may not have heard of before. From the origin of their name to their unique looks and everything in between, let’s take a look at the most interesting facts about bobcats.
29 Interesting Facts About Bobcats
Let’s start with the origin of the bobcat’s name. Although they share many physical features with other big cats, their tails are quite different. In place of the long sweeping appendage you’d find on the interesting cheetah, bobcats only have a short tail.
The stubby but distinctive white-and-black-striped tail is generally between 4 and 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) in length. The short tail appears to have been cut or bobbed, and from there the bobcat has its name.
The bobcat is one of four lynx species. Compared to the Eurasian lynx, the Canada lynx, and the Iberian lynx, the bobcat is the smallest.
Even though they’re small compared to their wild cousins, bobcats are about twice the size of a housecat. They stand at 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) in height. The average male bobcat weighs 21 lb (9.6 kg). Females are even smaller than males, weighing 15 lb (6.8 kg) on average.
An interesting fact to note is that bobcats living in the colder and more spacious northern areas tend to grow larger than those living in southern habitats.
Bobcats are very similar in appearance to their second-smallest cousin, the Canada lynx. They have the same general body shape and tan or gray-brown fur color. For this reason, people are often not sure which of the two cats they spotted, and even experts need to look carefully.
Some features you can look out for are differences in the ears, tails, and paws. The Canada lynx has long tufts of fur on the tips of its ears, which the bobcat doesn’t have. While the bobcat has white and black bands on its tail, the tip of a Canada lynx’s tail is solid black.
The bobcat and Canada lynx also make different paw prints. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the Canada lynx has larger and hairier paws than the bobcat. The bobcat also has shorter legs than its cousin.
Bobcats are considered crepuscular animals since they are most active during the twilight period, around dawn and dusk. They will move around, looking for prey, from a few hours before sunset until midnight, and again from before dawn until sunrise.
During these dark hours, the bobcat’s excellent eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell help it to find prey.
However, prey often becomes more scarce in the winter and fall seasons. Many animals that the bobcats hunt only come out during the day when temperatures are slightly higher. So, bobcats will adjust their hunting schedules during the colder months and become more active during the day.
Bobcats are mostly solitary creatures and they range far and wide. These cats can be found across the US, ranging from southern Canada as far as Mexico. Within this range, each bobcat will claim and mark its own territory, which can be anywhere from 1 to 126 square miles (1.6 to 326 km²) in size.
Male bobcats usually have larger territories than females, averaging around 8 square miles (21 km²). Roving bobcats often have less defined territories and typically range across areas 22 square miles (57 km²) in size.
A bobcat’s territory serves as their hunting grounds and is also where they have their dens and kittens. The territories of different bobcats often overlap, but this generally doesn’t cause conflict.
Bobcats use caves, rock ledges, hollow logs, or brush piles as their dens. Since these cats move around such large territories, they don’t have only one den.
A bobcat typically has its main den, as well as many auxiliary places to shelter scattered across its territory. These auxiliary dens are useful for taking cover or for keeping kittens close by when the bobcat is hunting.
Baby bobcats are often called bobkittens—and they grow up fast! The female bobcat gives birth to between one and six kittens in a litter.
At four weeks old, the kittens are already exploring around the main den. By the time they are two months, the kittens are weaned off their mother’s milk.
While they are between three and five months of age, the kittens travel with their mother and she teaches them how to hunt. Anytime between eight and eleven months old, the young bobcats leave their mother and find their own territories.
When prey becomes scarce, bobcats will often deviate from their usual diet and tackle larger animals such as elk or deer. They mostly hunt the calves or fawns from these species. Nevertheless, an adult bobcat can take down a fully grown deer about eight times its weight.
Bobcats can hunt these large animals thanks to their powerful jaws. They have a surprisingly strong bite force for their size—even more than that of coyotes and cheetahs.
Just like your average housecat, bobcats are not overly fond of water. They will avoid getting wet if they can, by climbing over rocks or fallen logs to cross bodies of water. However, when they need to get in the water, they are excellent swimmers.
Bobcats will sometimes swim when they are hunting ducks or other waterfowl. There are even photos and videos that show bobcats paddling long distances across lakes and rivers.
When you look at bobcat tracks, you’ll see paw prints about 2 inches (45 mm) in size. These tracks can appear similar to those of a coyote or domestic dog until you notice that there are no claw marks.
This is because bobcats have retractable claws, just like housecats. Bobcats will keep their claws sheathed while traveling and reveal their hooked claws when hunting. They keep their claws sharp by scratching them on trees in the area.
These cats have amazing jumping skills which they use to reach their prey or cross over obstacles. Bobcats can effortlessly jump as far as 10 feet (3 m) and just as high up into the air.
When they are hunting, bobcats use this ability to quickly pounce on their prey. They stealthily move closer to their prey, and when they are ready to attack, they give one giant leap towards the animal they are hunting.
Their leaping abilities also come in handy when they want to cross narrow waterways or clear large fallen logs. Bobcats can also jump straight up to clear high fences.
Many animals engage in a behavior known as caching, where they store food to return to at a later time. Bobcats do this when they made a large kill, like a deer, that they can’t eat all at once.
They will eat their fill of the prey and then cover the rest of the carcass with snow, leaves, or dirt. Periodically, the bobcat then returns to dig up its leftovers and feed on the large prey for several more meals.
Often bobcats will stay close to their cached prey to keep other carnivores away. Scavengers like ravens and coyotes will quickly sniff out the free food and the bobcat needs to be around to defend their kill.
As urban areas expand in the United States, many bobcats include spaces in and around cities in their territory. These wild cats are rather shy and will try to avoid areas where there is a lot of human activity.
Even so, bobcat sightings are becoming more common in city parks and other urban spaces. Usually, these sightings are caught on security cameras as bobcats roam around at night when there are fewer humans about.
Bobcats include these urban areas in their hunting grounds as there are many birds, squirrels, and other small prey to be found in cities. There are some cases where bobcats feed off livestock or stray domestic animals.
Just like other animals, the bobcat has a variety of different walking styles, but one gait that it prefers. Bobcats typically walk in a way called ‘direct registering’. This is when the hind feet step directly on top of the spot where the front feet just stepped.
If you follow a bobcat’s trail, you’ll see a zigzag pattern where the front and back paw prints are close together. Sometimes the back prints are even ahead of the front prints—this is called an overstep.
Although bobcats are proficient hunters themselves, there are other bigger and more dangerous animals who may want to hunt them in turn. Mountain lions, wolves, and bears are the main predators that can be a danger to bobcats.
Despite their small size, adult bobcats are fierce and will usually fight back when a larger carnivore tries to attack them or steal their prey. Bobcat kittens are usually the ones in danger, as they can easily be carried off by coyotes, foxes, and owls.
Besides their excellent jumping skills, bobcats are also highly proficient at climbing. These nimble creatures will often climb trees while hunting or resting.
If a bobcat is hunting a bird or squirrel that escaped up a tree, it can easily climb up after the prey. In cases where a bobcat needs to escape from a predator, a tree is also a safe place for them to hide.
As we’ve established, the bobcat and Canada lynx may look similar, but they are in fact different species. The lynx lives in the colder environment of Canada, while the bobcat makes its home across the US. On the few occasions that the two meet at the border, hybrids can be born.
In 2003, scientists confirmed that the first hybrid was found, and it was named a blynx. In the same year, a female blynx with kittens was spotted, proving that this hybrid was not sterile.
The blynx hybrid mostly has the build of a bobcat, but with the longer ears of a Canada lynx. These animals sometimes have spots like a bobcat, or can be plainer like their lynx parent.
Bobcats may be beautiful exotic cats, but their species is not in danger of extinction. They fall under the category of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
However, there was a time in the early 20th century when the bobcat population was in danger. Humans hunted bobcats for their fur and the number of cats in the wild plummeted.
Conservation measures were implemented and today the species is safe once more. Nevertheless, bobcats are still protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) index.
Smaller wild cats such as lynxes, ocelots, and bobcats can make purring sounds just like housecats. Their specific anatomy makes this delicate sound possible. However, they can’t roar like lions and other big cats.
Bobcats are generally very quiet creatures but they can produce a range of sounds besides purring. They can hiss, growl, meow, caterwaul, and scream. These cats are especially noisy when they are mating.
Bobcats mostly have reddish-brown coats with spots, but there are many variations on this coloring. Their fur can range from a pale gray to dark brown.
Those who live in the southwestern desert regions usually have lighter fur, while bobcats in the northern forested areas have dark coats. There have even been bobcats with fur so dark that it appears black.
Female bobcats can start breeding when they’re as young as one year old, although they typically begin breeding around two years of age. A dominant male bobcat travels with a female and mates with her, before moving on to mate with several others.
The females are pregnant for a period of 50 to 70 days. During her pregnancy and after the kittens are born, the female bobcat continues to hunt for herself and her offspring.
Although a bobcat’s most powerful ability when hunting is its amazing leap, it can also run very fast over short distances. These sprinters can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).
Bobcats can’t maintain their speed over long distances, so they are very patient hunters. They will slowly creep as close as possible to their prey, before pouncing or completing the final part of the chase with a speedy run.
The number of bobcats in the Everglades wetlands of Florida has been steadily decreasing since 2000, as food becomes more limited.
The life expectancy of a bobcat varies depending on its habitat and circumstances. Most bobcats in the wild live between 5 and 15 years, with 7 years being the average lifespan. Bobcats that are dominant and have a well-established home territory generally live longer.
In captivity, when bobcats are well looked after in a zoo or park, they can live to be over 20 years of age. The oldest bobcat on record lived in captivity and reached 32 years. In the wild, the oldest bobcat on record was 16 years of age.
It is very common for a bobcat to be infected with some type of parasite or mite. Besides the usual parasites, there is one particular mite that has only been found living on bobcats. This minuscule mite is known as the Lynxacarus morlani.
We commonly refer to these cats as female, male, and young bobcats, but each of them also has a more interesting name. A female bobcat is called a ‘queen’, while a male bobcat is referred to as a ‘tom’.
Baby bobcats are officially called ‘kittens’, but they also have the cute nickname of ‘bobkittens’. The collective noun for a group of these young ones is a ‘kindle’ of kittens. A group of adults is referred to as a ‘clowder’ or a ‘pounce’ of bobcats.
Many indigenous cultures of North America include the bobcat as a figure in their stories or as one of their cultural symbols.
The Mohave people admired the bobcat as a hunter and believed that dreaming about this creature would give them superior hunting skills. The bobcat also features in Shawnee culture. There is a tale about how the bobcat got its spots when the embers of fire landed on its fur.
The bobcat and coyote are often paired together in Native American mythology. Furthermore, as a symbol, the bobcat can represent vigilance and patience.
In Illinois, a 2000-year-old burial mound was excavated and revealed the skeleton of a young bobcat. A bone collar and shell beads were found with the skeleton, which led experts to believe that this bobcat was someone’s pet.
This burial mound is from the Hopewell culture, where it was normal for people to bury their dogs. However, this is the only archeological record found of a bobcat buried in this way.
In more modern times, bobcats have also sometimes been kept as pets. Today, however, only authorized facilities are allowed to keep bobcats in captivity.
Bobcats were not only admired in ancient cultures, but also remain widely popular today. There are around 200 high schools, colleges, and semi-professional sports teams across America who use ‘Bobcats’ as their team name.
One of the most famous examples is the Charlotte professional basketball team, which is now known as the Charlotte Hornets. The team was established in 2004 and was originally called the Charlotte Bobcats.
Although they may not be as famous as other big cat species, like the black panther, bobcats are stunning creatures in their own right. These wild cats are small but powerful and know how to look after themselves.
Bobcats have amazing skills that help them when they’re hunting prey, big or small, and when they’re escaping danger. Even the young ones grow up quickly and become independent.
Humans have always been fascinated by these beautiful cats and they feature in various parts of our history and cultures. Now that you know more about bobcats, you can appreciate their uniqueness even more if you are lucky enough to spot one of these cats.