The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a North American mammal of the cat family Felidae, appearing during the Irvingtonian stage of around 1.8 million years ago (AEO). With twelve recognized subspecies, it ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico, including most of the continental United States. The bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as semi-desert, urban edge, forest edges, and swampland environments. It persists in much of its original range and populations are healthy.
With a gray to brown coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the bobcat resembles the other species of the mid-sized Lynx genus. It is smaller than the Canada lynx, with which it shares parts of its range, but is about twice as large as the domestic cat. It has distinctive black bars on its forelegs and a black-tipped, stubby tail, from which it derives its name.
Though the bobcat prefers rabbits and hares, it will hunt anything from insects and small rodents to deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Like most cats, the bobcat is territorial and largely solitary, although there is some overlap in home ranges. It uses several methods to mark its territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces. The bobcat breeds from winter into spring and has a gestation period of about two months.
Although bobcats have been hunted extensively by humans, both for sport and fur, their population has proven resilient. The elusive predator features in Native American mythology and the folklore of European settlers.
The bobcat resembles other species of the Lynx genus but is on average the smallest of the four. Its coat is variable, though generally tan to grayish brown, with black streaks on the body and dark bars on the forelegs and tail. Its spotted patterning acts as camouflage. The ears are black-tipped and pointed, with short black tufts. There is generally an off-white color on the lips, chin, and underparts. Bobcats in the desert regions of the southwest have the lightest colored coats, while those in the northern, forested regions are darkest. Kittens are born well-furred and already have their spots. A few melanistic bobcats have been sighted and captured in Florida. They appear black, but may still exhibit a spot pattern.
The face appears wide due to ruffs of extended hair beneath the ears. The fur is brittle but quite long and dense. The nose of the bobcat is pinkish-red, and it has a base color of gray or yellowish- or brownish-red on its face, sides, and back. Bobcat eyes are yellow with black pupils. The pupils are round black circles and will widen during nocturnal activity to maximize light reception. The cat has sharp hearing and vision, and a good sense of smell. It is an excellent climber, and will swim when it needs to, but will normally avoid water.
Bobcat activities are confined to well-defined territories, which vary in size depending on gender and the distribution of prey. The home range is marked with feces, urine scent, and by clawing prominent trees in the area. In its territory the bobcat will have numerous places of shelter: usually a main den, and several auxiliary shelters on the outer extent of its range, such as hollow logs, brush piles, thickets, or under rock ledges. Its den smells strongly of the bobcat.
The sizes of bobcat's home ranges vary significantly; a World Conservation Union (IUCN) summary of research suggests ranges anywhere from 0.02 to 126 sq mi (0.052 to 330 km2). One study in Kansas found resident males to have roughly an 8 sq mi (21 km2) range and females less than half that area. Transient bobcats were found to have both a larger (roughly 22 sq mi/57 km2) and less well-defined home range. Kittens had the smallest range at about 3 sq mi (7.8 km2). Research has shown that dispersal from the natal range is most pronounced with males.
Reports on seasonal variation in range size have been equivocal. One study found a large variation in male range sizes, from 16 sq mi (41 km2) in summer up to 40 sq mi (100 km2) in winter. Another found that female bobcats, especially those which were reproductively active, expanded their home range in winter, but that males merely shifted their range without expanding it, which was consistent with numerous earlier studies. Other research in various American states has shown little or no seasonal variation.
Like most felines, the bobcat is largely solitary but ranges will often overlap. Unusually for a cat, males are more tolerant of overlap, while females rarely wander into others' ranges.Given their smaller range sizes, two or more females may reside within a male's home range. When multiple male territories overlap a dominance hierarchy is often established resulting in the exclusion of some transients from favored areas.