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Bobcat (What Time is it in Nature)

November 29, 2014

Every now and again, we see something new and very exciting at Prairie Ridge!  A few months ago, a large cat showed up on one of our eMammal camera traps, but the image was blurry and it was hard to tell what it was.  All we could say for sure was that the cat was larger than the domestic cats that occasionally wander onto the grounds.  We recently started processing the data for October and November, and happily, the large cat appeared again – and this time you can definitely tell what it is.  I give you the first Bobcat (Lynx rufus) documented at Prairie Ridge!

Bobcat on camera trap

And just in case you’ve never seen one and want a clear, daytime shot of a Bobcat to look at:

Bobcat in day by Don DeBold via Wikipedia

In addition to being a first for Prairie Ridge, our Bobcat sighting is also the first spotted by eMammal cameras in Raleigh, so this is an extra special Bobcat!

Bobcats part of the cat family of mammals, Felidae, and share a genus with the similar Canadian Lynx, Lynx.  They are medium-sized cats, about twice the size of most domesticated cats, that reach average lengths of about 33 inches and heights of 1-2 feet at the shoulder.  They are found in nearly every state in the US as well as large areas of Canada and Mexico, though Bobcats in the northern part of the range are generally larger than those found in the southern parts of the range.  Most Bobcats are brown or grey, sometimes with reddish patches, on top and white on bottom and are sprinkled liberally with black markings, including distinctive black bars on the legs.  The hindlegs are longer than the forelegs, which gives these cats a bobbing gait, but they get their name from their short (bobbed), black tipped tails.  They also have a ruff of fur along their cheeks, which gives the Bobcat the appearance of having a large head when it is actually relatively small.

Bobcats prefer wooded areas with lots of cover, but have adapted quite well to humans and can live in a wide variety of habitats, including deserts and suburban areas.  They develop well-defined territories containing a main den or shelter and several auxiliary shelters.  They mark their territories with scratches on prominent trees, urine, or feces, and multiple members of the same sex rarely overlap their ranges except at the edges.  A male may have multiple females in his territory, however, especially given that females tend to have smaller territories than the males, but females rarely overlap one another.  Like most cats, Bobcats are largely solitary, forming pairs only to mate in the late fall or winter.

Female Bobcats typically begin to reproduce at just over 1-year-old, though the males often require a second year of maturation before they first mate.  Once a male finds a receptive female in their breeding season, he may mate with her several times over several days, but she will eventually raise her kittens alone.  A female Bobcat will usually have 2-4 kittens sometime between March and May.  The kittens are born with all of their fur, but closed eyes.  They are weaned at about 2 months and will begin hunting with their mother at 3-5 months before leaving her shortly after they begin hunting on their own in their first fall.

Bobcats are predatory carnivores and are essential for controlling rabbit and rodent populations.  In our part of the country, the primary food of the Bobcat is the Eastern Cottontail, though other rabbits or hares are the primary prey in other areas of the cat’s huge North American range.  Bobcats are opportunistic predators and are also known to feed on insects, fish, birds, rodents (particularly Cotton Rats in our area of the range), and animals as large as deer when rabbits are scarce.  They generally ambush their prey, waiting for animals to wander close before pouncing, grabbing the prey with their powerful paws with retractable claws, and killing it.

I’ll be honest: you’re not likely to see the Bobcat that has been visiting Prairie Ridge as they are crepuscular animals (active just before and after sunset and sunrise each day) and Prairie Ridge is closed during those times.  However, Bobcats are known to shift to a more diurnal (daytime) schedule in the winter to match their prey’s activity. Be sure to keep an eye out for it on your next visit.  You never know when you might catch a glimpse of this gorgeous and secretive cat!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Top photo taken by a eMammal camera trap at Prairie Ridge; lower image by Dan DeBold, used under Creative Commons license from Wikimedia Commons)

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