Everyone has probably either had a housecat, or at least
known someone who does. When people think of the wild relatives
of the neighborhood today, many probably think of cheetahs,
lions, tigers and other big cats in Africa. But we have our own
wild feline right here in Oklahoma – the bobcat.
Lynx rufus is a small cat with slight ear tufts. Its back, sides and upper tail is pale to reddish brown with black spots, while the lower part of its body is white with dark spots.
Bobcats have a range that stretches from southern Canada to northern Mexico, and are found throughout the continental United States except in the upper Midwest and parts of New England. Bobcats frequent habitat types ranging from coniferous and mixed forests to desert scrublands to Cypress swamps.
Just like their larger African cousins, bobcats mark their territory with urine. A male’s home range is generally two to three times larger than that of the female’s, and it includes the ranges of several females while partially overlapping the ranges of other males. Females are much more exclusive about their territory, and their ranges do not overlap.
Bobcats generally breed in January or February, but have been known to reproduce year-round, especially when food is plentiful. Once the female has mated, she will seek out a fallen log or a rock overhang for a den. She will give birth two months later to two to five kittens. However, younger females generally produce smaller litters than older, maturer females. The kittens are weaned after two months but stay with their mother until they are around a year old and are about half-grown.
Bobcats are thought to live for around 12 years in the wild and can weigh more than 25 pounds as mature adults. Cats in the North and animals in more open areas are usually larger than those that live in the forests or in the southern reaches of their range.
While bobcats can be active throughout the day or night, they are primarily crepuscular, meaning their peak hours of activity are around dusk and dawn. Although small in stature, bobcats are very effective predators, even of large ungulates such as deer, especially fawns or yearlings. More often, though, bobcats prey on rabbits and other rodents, as well as wild turkeys and other ground-nesting birds. Male bobcats are generally larger than females, and are more likely to take down larger prey.
Bobcats have been the most heavily harvested and traded cat species in the past two decades, and interest in bobcat pelts has increased in recent years due to increased demand from furriers in China and Russia. Through effective management and responsible harvesting, the bobcat population is very healthy in Oklahoma, and sportsmen have ample opportunities to hunt or trap cats.
For those who are fortunate enough to have seen one of Oklahoma’s wild felines, it is a special occurrence. These cats are very elusive and hard to spot, but they are spectacular to watch when you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one!