An Animal of the High Desert - Bobcat

The bobcat (Felis rufus) is the smallest member of the lynx family. They are the most common native cat in North America and can be found in almost all types of habitat -- except metropolitan areas -- especially in mountains and desert areas where water is available.

No one is quite sure where the name “bobcat” came from, but it may have originated from the animal's short tail, which is only 6 or 7 inches long and looks like it has been "bobbed." Or it may have come from the bobcat’s unique high-tailed, bobbing gait that is the result of having back legs which are longer than its front legs.

The bobcat is about twice the size of a housecat, weighing from 15 to 30 pounds. The bobcat has two color changes per year. The fur of the adult bobcat is striped, blotchy, and dense; tawny gray for the winter and reddish brown for the summer. Baby bobcats have spotted fur that disappears as they get older. Bobcats are rarely seen because their spotted and striped coat aids in camouflage in a wide range of environments.  They also have a shy disposition.

Despite its kitty-like appearance, the bobcat is quite fierce. Some people call them the spitfires of the animal kingdom because they seem fearless and won't back down from a fight! The bobcat's growls and snarls are so deep and fearsome, particularly when hidden from view, that one gets the misimpression it must be a mountain lion.

Bobcats are ambush hunters, preferring to hide and wait for their prey. They like ledges, from where they can jump down on prey, and thickets where they can use their camouflage ability. They are “short distance runners” and will seldom chase a potential meal for more than 200 or 250 feet.

The bobcat's excellent vision and hearing allow it to hunt actively in the dark. Its pupils can dilate unusually wide, and special reflective retinal cells collect all available light. The tuft hairs on the ear tips serve as antennae, increasing the animal’s ability to hear the slightest sound. During the day the bobcat remains hidden and is rarely glimpsed. Its favorite prey are rabbit and hare, chipmunk, ground squirrel, birds, mice, rats, and lizards and the occasional small deer. The bobcat will commonly switch prey species when its preferred source of food is unavailable. Bobcats can only eat about three pounds of meat at a time, so they often cache their food for later until the meat rots. They rarely eat carrion.

Bobcats have large feet with retractable claws. The soft pads on their feet help them to sneak up on an animal quietly. Bobcats can run at up to 30 miles per hour, but they would rather walk. They put their back feet in the same spots where their front feet stepped. That way, they don’t make so much noise by snapping extra twigs under their feet. They are good climbers and can escape up a tree if needed, but they'd rather spend their time on the ground. Bobcats will swim if they need to, but it's not their first choice!

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