The Bobcat is a North American mammal of the cat family Felidae, appearing during the Irvingtonian stage of around 1.8 million years ago (AEO). With twelve recognized, it ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico, including most of the continental United States. The bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as semi-desert, urban edge, forest edges, and swampland environments. It persists in much of its original range and populations are healthy.
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. There is generally an off-white color 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. A few melanistic bobcats have been sighted and captured in Florida. They appear black, but may still exhibit a spot pattern.
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 will swim when it needs to, but will normally avoid water.
The adult bobcat is 47.5 to 125 cm (18.7 to 49 in) long from the head to the base of the tail, averaging 82.7 cm (32.6 in); the stubby tail adds 9 to 20 cm (3.5 to 7.9 in) and, due to its "bobbed" appearance, it gives the species its name. An adult stands about 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 in) at the shoulders. Adult males can range in weight from 6.4 to 18.3 kg (14 to 40 lb), with an average of 9.6 kg (21 lb); females at 4 to 15.3 kg (8.8 to 34 lb), with an average of 6.8 kg (15 lb). The largest bobcat accurately measured on record weighed 22.2 kg (49 lb), although there are unverified reports of them reaching 27 kg (60 lb). Furthermore, a June 20, 2012 report of a New Hampshire roadkill specimen listed the animal's weight at 27 kg (60 lb). The largest-bodied bobcats are from eastern Canada and northern New England> of the subspecies (L. r. gigas), while the smallest are from the southeastern subspecies (L. r. 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 pound (270 to 340 g) and is about 10 inches (25 cm) in length. By its first year it will reach about 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
The bobcat is crepuscular. It keeps 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 will move from 2 to 7 miles (3.2 to 11 km) along its habitual route. This behavior may vary seasonally, as bobcats become more diurnal during fall and winter. This is a response to the activity of their prey, which are more active during the day in colder months. It uses several methods to mark its territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces.
Though the bobcat prefers rabbits and hares, it will hunt anything from insects and small rodents to deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. The bobcat is able to go for long periods without food, but will eat heavily when prey is abundant. During lean periods, it will often prey on larger animals that it can kill and return to feed on later. The bobcat hunts by stalking its prey and then ambushing it with a short chase or pounce. Its preference is for mammals about 1.5 to 12.5 pounds (0.68 to 5.7 kg). Its main prey varies by region. In the eastern United States it is the eastern cottontail species, and in the north it is the snowshoe hare. When these prey species exist together, as in New England, they are the primary food sources of the bobcat. In the far south, the rabbits and hare are sometimes replaced by cotton rats as the primary food source. The bobcat is an opportunistic predator that, unlike the more specialized Canadian lynx, will readily vary its prey selection. Research has shown that 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.
The bobcat hunts animals of different sizes, and will adjust its hunting techniques accordingly. With small animals, such as rodents,squirrels, birds, fish and insects, it will hunt in areas known to be abundant in prey, and will lie, crouch, or stand and wait for victims to wander close. It will then pounce, grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. For slightly larger animals, such as rabbits and hares, it will stalk from cover and wait until they come within 20 to 35 feet (6.1 to 11 m) before rushing in to attack. Less commonly it will feed on larger animals such as young ungulates and other carnivores such as 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. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, bobcats killed 11,100 sheep in 2004, comprising 4.9% of all sheep predator deaths. However, some amount of bobcat predation may be misidentified, as bobcats have been known to scavenge on the remains of livestock kills by other animals.
It has been known to kill deer, especially in winter when smaller prey is scarce, or when deer populations become more abundant. One study in the Everglades showed a large majority of kills (33 of 39) were fawns, but that prey up to eight times the bobcat's weight could be successfully taken. It stalks the deer, often when the deer is lying down, then rushes in and grabs it by the neck before biting through the throat, base of the skull, or chest. On the rare occasions that a bobcat kills a deer, it eats its fill and then buries the carcass under snow or leaves, often returning to it several times to feed.