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Canada lynx

Lynx canadensis

What do they look like?

Most lynx have long, thick, yellowish-brown fur. The back is more gray, and the belly is lighter. Some have dark spots. Lynx have short, ringed tails with black tips. The ears have long black hairs on the tip. The paws are large and furry, which helps these cats to walk and run on snow.

Most lynx measure between 670 and 1,067 mm from head to tail, and weigh from 4.5 to 17.3 kg. Their tails can be from 51 to 138 mm. Males are a little bigger than females. (Tumlison, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    4.5 to 17.3 kg
    9.91 to 38.11 lb
  • Range length
    670 to 1,067 mm
    26.38 to in

Where do they live?

Major populations of Canadian lynx, Lynx canadensis, are found throughout Canada, in western Montana, and in nearby parts of Idaho and Washington. There are small populations in New England and Utah and possibly in Oregon, Wyoming and Colorado as well.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Lynx usually live in mature forests with dense undergrowth but can also be found in more open forests, rocky areas or tundra.

How do they reproduce?

We are not exactly certain how these animals mate. Since males share their home ranges with one or more females, it seems likely that they are polygynous.

Females raise one litter per year. After mating in February and March, females are pregnant for 8 to 10 weeks. Litters typically have 2 or 3 kittens, though the number may range from 1 to 5. Newborn lynx kittens weigh about 200 g. They feed mainly on their mother's milk for 5 months, but kittens eat some meat as early as one month of age.

Males do not take care of the young. Kittens live with their mother until they are about 11 months old, and siblings may stay together for a while even after they leave their mother. Females can reproduce at 21 months and males at 33 months.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Lynx can breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in January and February.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    56 to 70 days
  • Average weaning age
    150 days
  • Average time to independence
    10 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    21 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    498 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    33 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    573 days

Females have their babies in fallen logs, stumps, and clumps of timber. Dens in these places help to protect the newborn kittens from predators.

Mothers take care of kittens without help from males. Kittens are helpless at birth, but have a lot of fur to keep them warm. Mothers nurse their kittens for about 5 months. When they no longer drink milk, the kittens live on a diet of meat. Mothers may teach their young how to hunt for meat. Sometimes, two lynx may cooperate in catching a prey animal.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning

How long do they live?

In the wild, lynx have lived as long as 14.5 years. In captivity, lifespans of 26.75 years have been recorded.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    14.5 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    26.75 (high) years

How do they behave?

Lynx prefer to be alone, and only spend time with other adults during breeding season. Females sometimes share parts of their home range with other females. Males may share their range with one or more females and their young, but males never share their space with other males. Ranges vary in size from 11 to 300 square kilometers.

Lynx use their vision to hunt, but are helped in this activity by excellent hearing. Lynx usually sneak up on prey to within a few short bounds, and then pounce.

Females and young sometimes hunt together. They move through open areas in a line. One lynx scares the prey, and another lynx in the line kills it. This may be how the mother teaches her young to hunt.

Lynx are only active at night. During the day, they stay in rough nests under rock ledges, fallen trees, or shrubs.

  • Range territory size
    11 to 300 km^2

Home Range

Ranges vary in size from 11 to 300 square kilometers.

How do they communicate with each other?

Lynx use their eyes, ears and noses in communicating. They also use their voices, and can make calls to one another. Touching may happen in mating and between a mother and her kittens.

What do they eat?

Canadian lynx only eat meat. Snowshoe hares are a very important food for these cats, and when there are fewer hares to eat, the number of lynx decreases. In some areas, such as Cape Breton Island, lynx eat only hares, but in other areas they also feast on rodents, birds and fish. If they can find a deer that is very weak or sick, lynx will kill and eat it. They also feed off carcasses left by human hunters.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • fish
  • carrion

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Predators of these cats have not been reported. However, one can assume that young kittens are vulnerable to other large carnivores, such as wolves and bears.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

As predators, Canadian lynx are important in regulating the populations of their prey. This is particularly noticeable in the cycle of populations of lynx and snowshoe hares.

Do they cause problems?

Canadian lynx are not known to have a negative impact on human economies.

How do they interact with us?

Canadian lynx have been exploited for their fur since the seventeenth century. With restrictions on trade in furs of large cats in the late 1960's, and subsequent reduction of ocelot and margay populations by fur trappers, increased attention has been focused on the pelts of Canadian lynx. However, it seems that the greatest pressure on populations of lynx remains the size of hare populations, not trappers. Lynx help control populations of small mammals, such as snowshoe hares and voles, that are agricultural or silvicultural pests.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Lynx are listed in CITES Appendix II, and they are listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and endangered in the state of Michigan.

Some more information...

When hare populations decrease in size, lynx populations are affected. This is effect occurs because in times of food shortage, kittens are more likely to die or to be sick. Litters are larger and kittens healthier in years when hare populations are large and food is plentiful. Also, females are less likely to become pregnant than they are when food is abundant. Adult lynx may be hungry and thin when there are not enough hares to eat, but they do not die at greater rates than when hares are more plentiful.


David L. Fox (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tiffany Murphy (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.


Kitchener, A. 1991. The Natural History of the Wild Cats. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, NY.

Nowak, R. M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Turbak, G. 1985. A tale of two cats. International Wildlife, 14:4-11.

IUCN, 1996. "Cat Specialist Group: Species Accounts: Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis)" (On-line). Accessed November 6, 2001 at

Tumlison, R. 1999. Canada lynx| Lynx canadensis . Pp. 233-234 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press in Association with the American Society of Mammalogists.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Fox, D. and T. Murphy 2002. "Lynx canadensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 16, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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