Was it a Lynx or a Bobcat


Notice the spots on these bobcats

Lynxes and bobcats are animals that look a lot alike and they have similar habits. They also sometimes have overlapping ranges. For this reason, many people use their common names interchangeably and don’t know the difference between them, though they are two different species of wildcats. So what is the difference between a lynx (Lynx canadensis) and a bobcat (Lynx rufus)?

Lynx and at bobcat similarities


Notice the long legs

First, it is helpful to see how the two wildcats are similar. There are a lot of similarities. Both have short tails, ear tufts, are medium-sized cats (larger than the average house cat and smaller than a mountain lion, jaguar or leopard) and both are commonly found in conifer forests and in mountain terrain. These cat are usually primarily brownish in the summer and grayish in the winter. They both have darker spots or elongated spots and markings and lighter bellies that allow them to blend into the background, making them hard to see if they are stationary.

Both cats are also very important predators, eating mostly rabbits, hares and rodents, helping to keep mouse, vole, lemming, squirrel, rabbit and hare populations in check. They will eat birds, bird eggs, lizards, amphibians, fish and even insects on occasion, however. Both cats often hunt by pouncing on their prey, very much like a house cat does.

These cats both live 5-10 years in the wild and they both typically have three or four kittens, often varying according to how much available food there is.

How lynxes and bobcats differ


Look at the long ear tufts on this lynx

Many of the differences between the two cats can be a little hard to detect. Lynxes have longer ear tufts than bobcats, for instance. It can be hard to tell the difference without seeing the two side by side and close up.

Lynxes tend to be a little bigger, too. An average bobcat weights about 20 pounds and a lynx commonly weighs around 30-35 pounds, though there are exceptionally large specimens of each that have been seen. Still, since they can be densely furred, it isn’t always easy to tell the difference in weight.

Bobcats normally have a lot more spots than lynxes have. Bobcats also have shorter tails, shorter legs and they are built much more like house cats. Lynxes have a noticeably longer tail, long legs and their front shoulders are substantially closer to the ground than their rumps, so their backs slope downward from back to front.

Though both cats will eat most creatures they can catch and kill, the major part of a lynx’s diet is made of snowshoe hares. Bobcats tend to have a more southern range, so they eat more of a variation, including a lot of cottontail rabbits than snowshoe hares.

Though most people would be foolish to confront either of these cats, the bobcat normally has a worse disposition than lynxes, which tend to be a bit more docile.

Naturally, none of these is greatly helpful in places where their ranges overlap. A person could confidently say that a sighting in Alaska was of a lynx and not a bobcat, while another person in New Mexico could be fairly certain that they saw a bobcat and not a lynx, but at the US / Canada border, both cats are present and the above isn’t great for telling which is which.

There is a way that they can be told apart just by looking at them and without getting particularly close to them, however. The end of a lynx’s tail is entirely black. The end of a bobcat’s tail is ringed with black, but isn’t solidly black.

This is actually a handy difference. It isn’t common for people to see either cat and if you are ever lucky enough to see one, chances are that it is going to be moving away from you rapidly. The tail may be the only part of the animal that you see, but it can be enough for identification.

In this film clip, notice the tip of the cat’s tail, identifying it as a lynx. Note, too, that the lynx does catch his dinner in the end, though the snowshoe hare does make him work for it. The kill scene is filmed in such a way that you don’t actually see the kill. More often than not, the lynx is unsuccessful and goes hungry.

Either way, these are beautiful animals and I’ve had the tremendous fortune of seeing several of both in the wild.

* Note: All pictures from Pixabay




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