Bobcats range in length from 65 to 105 cm, with the tail adding an extra 11 to 19 cm (bobcats got their name because of their short tails). They are 45 to 58 cm high at the shoulder and weigh between 4 and 15 kg.
Bobcat fur can be various shades of buff and brown, with dark brown or black stripes and spots on some parts of the body. The tip of the tail and the backs of the ears are black. They have short ear tufts, and ruffs of hair on the side of the head, giving the appearance of sideburns.
Bobcats are found throughout North America from southern Canada to southern Mexico. In the United States population densities are much higher in the southeastern region than in the western states.
Bobcats can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, semi-deserts, mountains, and brushland. They sleep in hidden dens, often in hollow trees, thickets, or rocky crevices.
The mating system of bobcats is similar to that of domestic cats. Males and females are only together for the brief time required for courtship and mating, and both males and females may have more than one mate.
Bobcats usually mate in the early spring, although the timing is variable. After a pregnancy of 60 to 70 days, a litter of about 3 kittens is born. The young open their eyes for the first time when they are 10 days old, and they nurse through their second month. Young bobcats leave their mother during the winter, when they are about 8 months old.
All female eutherian mammals provide nourishment to their young before birth through the placenta. After the young are born, the mother's milk provides them with further nourishment. Female bobcats bring meat to their young and teach them how to hunt after they are weaned, staying with them for almost a year. Male bobcats do not help raise their offspring.
Bobcats live up to 12 years in the wild. In captivity, they may live up to 32 years. (Kurta, 1995)
Like many cats, bobcats are solitary animals. The male and female interact almost exclusively during the mating season. These cats rarely vocalize, although they often yowl and hiss during the mating season.
Bobcats are basically terrestrial and nocturnal, although they are good climbers and are often active at dusk as well as during the night.
Bobcats are territorial, using urine, feces, and liquid from glands located at their rear end to mark their home ranges, which are one to several square kilometers in size. A successful male's home range overlaps with those of several females, and may also overlap the territory of another male. The home ranges of females, which are smaller than those of the males, do not overlap one another.
Bobcats mark their territories with scent to warn other bobcats to stay out. They make various yowling sounds to communicate with one another during the breeding season. Like all cats, bobcats have excellent vision and hearing and a well-developed sense of smell.
Bobcats are strictly meat eaters. Stealthy hunters, they stalk their prey, then pounce and (if successful) kill with a bite to the vertebrae of the neck. They hunt rodents, rabbits, small hoofed mammals, large ground birds, and sometimes reptiles. They occasionally eat small domesticated animals and poultry.
Bobcats occasionally eat small domesticated animals, which has resulted in attempts to get rid of them them in some areas. In the southeastern United States, bobcats are becoming increasingly used to cities and towns, though their shyness makes it unlikely that they will be seen.
On rare occasions humans are attacked by bobcats.
In the past bobcats were extensively hunted and trapped for their valuable pelts.
Bobcats are listed in CITES Appendix II.
One type of bobcat, the Mexican bobcat, is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This subspecies is confined to central Mexico.
There are probably almost one million bobcats living in the United States. In some areas they are quite rare, while in others they have stable and sometimes dense populations. Hence some states allow regulated hunting, while in others they are protected.
Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Deborah Ciszek (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Nowak, R.M., and J.L. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.
IUCN - The World Conservation Union, 1996. "Species Survival Commision: IUCN Cat Specialist Group: Lynx rufus" (On-line). Accessed Feburary 2, 2001 at http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk/sp-accts.htm.
Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.