Bobcats

Biology | Damage ID | Management | Resources

Figure 1. Bobcat (Lynx rufus). Photo by Dave Menke, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 

Identification

The bobcat (Lynx rufus, Figure 1), also called a “wildcat,” is a medium-sized member of the North American cat family. It can be distinguished at a distance by its graceful catlike movements, 4 to 6 inch “bobbed” tail, round face, and pointed ears. The tip of the tail has black hair, and prominent white dots are on the upper sides of the ears. Body hair color varies, but the sides and flanks usually are brownish black or reddish brown with either distinct or faint black spots. In southern states, bobcats may have a yellowish or reddish cast on their backs and necks.  

Figure 2. Relative size comparison of the cougar, bobcat, and domestic cat. Image by Dee Ebbeka. 

Legal Status

Bobcats are protected by state laws throughout their range. They are considered a game species or furbearer and licenses typically are required to harvest them.  

Physical Description

Male bobcats tend to be larger than females. Adult males are 32 to 40 inches long and weigh from 14 to 45 pounds. Adult females typically are 28 to 32 inches long and weigh from 9 to 33 pounds. 

Species Range

The bobcat occurs in a wide variety of habitats from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and from Mexico to northern British Columbia. Bobcats live in all 48 contiguous states.  

Tracks and Signs

Bobcats caterwaul during mating season and hiss, puff, spit, and growl in response to threats. Bobcat tracks lack claw marks, are about 2 inches in diameter, and resemble those of a large house cat (Figure 3). The length between tracks in their walking stride is about 7 inches and trails reveal a zig-zag walking pattern as they hunt. 

Figure 3. Tracks of the bobcat. Image by Dee Ebbeka.