Wildthings Public Wildlife Education

The Felines of North America

    Even though their numbers are down, North America is home to numerous species of wild cats.

Bobcat picture     The most common and the only one not on the threatened or endangered list, is the ornery Bobcat.  He is the "Lynx Rufus" which means he is in same family as the Canada Lynx, but he is a lot more versatile than the Canada Lynx.  The Bobcat used to be wide spread over most of the US.  But for years he was labeled as a nuisance and was either ran out of the area or was shot, and this has seriously hurt the population numbers.  Still though, they are the most successful of any of the North American wild cats.  They eat a wider variety of food which is a big help.  The Canada Lynx eats almost exclusively Snow Shoe Hares.  The Bobcat will eat a wide range of food including hares, Cottontail Rabbits, mice, rats, gophers, birds, eggs, reptiles or about anything else they can catch.                                                            

    The Bobcat is only slightly larger than the average house cat, at apx 21 inches high and 10-30 pounds.  Their back legs are slightly longer than the front which gives the impression that they are a lot bigger than they really are.  They usually have 1-6 kittens with 2-3 the average in the spring.  The eyes open at 9 days, and they nurse for 3-4 months.   At 5 months mom starts taking them out to learn the fine art of hunting.  They will stay with mom learning until the next spring and breeding time.  The Bobcat has been known to live over 30 years in captivity, but usually only 12-13 in the wild.

 Photo: Female lynx and her young kittenThe Lynx is like the Bobcats cold weather cousin. Lynx are about the same size as a Bobcat, but the Canada Lynx has cold weather gear on.  Their feet are bigger than the Bobcats and with the extra hair they have on them their feet work as snowshoes.  Their ear tufts are bigger and the ruff around their face is fuzzier.     Canadian Lynx is a good example of the relationship between predator and prey. They have tracked the Lynx for years and watch the fluxuation up and down. Most populations of Snowshoe Hares run in cycles of 8-11 years. The Canada Lynx population followed the flow.  If there isn't much food they may skip a year of having kittens.  Wait till conditions are more favorable to try to raise a family.  Most kittens don't make it to adulthood as is.  It's hard raising a family no matter who you are.  The Canada Lynx has been recorded living as long as 21 years in captivity and 15 in the wild.

Go to fullsize image    Another North American cat that is pretty scarce is the Ocelot or Painted leopard. The little cat used to run most of the southern US.  Now every now and then there is a sighting in Texas or Arizona then as you go farther into Mexico they become more common.  The Ocelot has been studied in several different habitat types.  Like most cats they are primarily nocturnal, they are territorial and primarily solitary unless mom and kits.  The fur trade for the Ocelots beautiful coat has put this cat on the endangered list for US. 



    Photo: A mountain lion watches its territory from a rockProbably the cat most people think of first is the Mountain Lion, Cougar, Puma, Catamount, Panther, or whatever your region of the country calls it. There are only a few states in the Midwest that the Puma doesn't prowl. This cat is incredibly athletic and adaptable. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats. Anywhere it can make a living. Like most kittens their eyes open around 9 days. But a cool fact; sometimes it takes as long as 16 months for the Cougars eyes to turn from the baby blue of kittenhood to the adult yellowish-brown. Mountain Lions live around twenty years.

     Then there is the Florida Panther. There are only around 50 mature breeding pairs in the wild. They are headed the way of the Jaguar did in the US.  In the US every wild cat is either on the Threatened or Endangered List except the Bobcat. But even the Bobcat is monitored and protected by most states Division of Wildlife. I really believe education is the key to conservation. The more aware we are of our environment around us, the better we will be able to understand it and eventually......co-exist