BobcatThe bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as semidesert, urban edge and forest edge environments in California and elsewhere in North America. Known to scientists as the Lynx rufus, the bobcat is smaller on average than the Canada lynx, with which it shares parts of its range, but is about twice as large as the domestic cat. 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. Generally, an off-white color is seen 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.
The face appears wide due to ruffs of extended hair beneath the ears. Bobcat eyes are yellow with black pupils. 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. 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 swims when it needs to, but normally avoids water. However, cases of bobcats swimming long distances across lakes have been recorded.
The adult bobcat is 19 to 49 inches long from the head to the base of the tail, averaging 32.6 inches; the stubby tail adds 3.5 to 7.9 inches and its “bobbed” appearance gives the species its name. An adult stands about 12 to 24 inches at the shoulders. Adult males can range in weight from 14 to 40 pounds, with an average of 21 pounds; females tip the scales at 8.8 to 33.7 pounds, with an average of 15 pounds. The largest bobcat accurately measured on record weighed 49 pounds, although unverified reports have them reaching 60 pounds. The largest-bodied bobcats are from eastern Canada and northern New England of the subspecies Lynx rufus gigas, while the smallest are from the southeastern subspecies Lynx rufus floridanus, particularly those in the southern Appalachians. The bobcat is muscular, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs, giving it a bobbing gait. At birth, it weighs 0.6 to 0.75 pounds and is about 10 inches in length. By its first birthday, it weighs about 10 pounds.
The cat is larger in its northern range and in open habitats. A morphological size comparison study in the eastern United States found a divergence in the location of the largest male and female specimens, suggesting differing selection constraints for the different genders.
Ranging from southern Canada to central Mexico, including most of the contiguous United States, the bobcat is believed to have evolved from the Eurasian lynx, which crossed into North America by way of the Bering Land Bridge during the Pleistocene, with progenitors arriving as early as 2.6 million years ago. The first wave moved into the southern portion of North America, which was soon cut off from the north by glaciers. This population evolved into modern bobcats around 20,000 years ago. A second population arrived from Asia and settled in the north, developing into the modern Canada lynx. Hybridization between the bobcat and the Canada lynx sometimes occurs.
The two subspecies of bobcat most likely to be encountered in San Bernardino County are the Lynx rufus californicus, generally present in California west of the Sierra Nevada and the Lynx rufus mohavensis, which has as its primary range the Mojave Desert.
The bobcat is crepuscular, keeping on the move from three hours before sunset until about midnight, and then again from before dawn until three hours after sunrise. Each night, it moves from two to seven miles along its habitual route, varying seasonally, as bobcats become more diurnal during fall and winter in response to the activity of their prey, which are more active during the day in colder weather.
Bobcat activities are confined to well-defined territories, which vary in size depending on the 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 has 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.
Bobcats’ home ranges vary significantly, from 0.23 to 126 sq miles, with females exhibiting ranges on average about half that of males. Different studies have indicated differing variations in seasonal range size. One study found a large variation in male range sizes, from 16 square miles in summer up to 40 square miles in winter. Other research found little or no seasonal variation.
Like most felines, the bobcat is largely solitary, but ranges often overlap. Unusual for cats, 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 territories overlap, a dominance hierarchy is often established. The average density for bobcats is estimated at one per five square miles, with an apparent population density and gender ratio link. One study noted a dense, unhunted population in California had a sex ratio of 2.1 males per female. When the density decreased, the gender ratio changed to 0.86 males per female. Another study observed a similar ratio, and suggested males may be better able to cope with the increased competition, and this helped limit reproduction until various factors lowered the density.
Though the bobcat prefers rabbits and hares, it hunts insects, chickens, geese and other birds, small rodents, and deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance.
The bobcat is able to survive for long periods without food, but eats heavily when prey is abundant. During lean periods, it often preys on larger animals, which it can kill and return to feed on later. The bobcat hunts by stalking its prey and then ambushing with a short chase or pounce. Its preference is for mammals weighing about 1.5 to 12.5 pounds. Its main prey varies by region. Birds up to the size of a swan are also taken, along with their fledglings and eggs. The bobcat is an opportunistic predator that, unlike the more specialized Canada lynx, readily varies its prey selection. Diet diversification positively correlates to a decline in numbers of the bobcat’s principal prey; the abundance of its main prey species is the main determinant of overall diet.
Less commonly, it feeds on larger animals, such as young ungulates, and other carnivores, such as fishers (primarily female), foxes, minks, skunks, small dogs, and domesticated cats. Bobcats are considered the major predatory threat to the endangered whooping crane. Bobcats are also occasional hunters of livestock and poultry. While larger species, such as cattle and horses, are not known to be attacked, bobcats do present a threat to smaller ruminants, such as sheep and goats. Bobcats are known to kill deer, especially in winter when smaller prey is scarce, or when deer populations become more abundant.
Studies have found bobcat populations may decrease in areas with high coyote populations, with the more social inclination of the canid giving them a possible competitive advantage.
The average bobcat lifespan is seven years long and rarely exceeds 10 years. The oldest wild bobcat on record was 16 years old, and the oldest captive bobcat lived to be 32.
Bobcats generally begin breeding by their second summer, though females may start as early as their first year. Sperm production begins each year by September or October, and the male is fertile into the summer. A dominant male travels with a female and mates with her several times, generally from winter until early spring; this varies by location, but most mating takes place during February and March. The pair may undertake a number of different behaviors, including bumping, chasing, and ambushing. Other males may be in attendance, but remain uninvolved. Once the male recognizes the female is receptive, he grasps her in the typical felid neck grip and mates with her. The female may later go on to mate with other males,and males generally mate with several females. During courtship, the otherwise silent bobcat may let out loud screams, hisses, or other sounds. Research in Texas has suggested establishing a home range is necessary for breeding; studied animals with no set range had no identified offspring. The female has an estrous cycle of 44 days, with the estrus lasting five to ten days. Bobcats remain reproductively active throughout their lives.
The female raises the young alone. One to six, but usually two to four, kittens are born in April or May, after roughly 60 to 70 days of gestation. Sometimes, a second litter is born as late as September. The female generally gives birth in an enclosed space, usually a small cave or hollow log. The young open their eyes by the ninth or tenth day. They start exploring their surroundings at four weeks and are weaned at about two months. Within three to five months, they begin to travel with their mother. They hunt by themselves by fall of their first year, and usually disperse shortly thereafter.

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