A-z - Animals

Types of bobcats

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key point

  • There are approximately 40 species of cats and more than 70 species of domestic cats worldwide.
  • There are four types of lynx: Canadian cat, Eurasian cat, Iberian cat and bobcat.
  • Bobcats are feral cats and not well suited to a domestic environment.
  • We'll gain insight into bobcat behavior and characteristics, and why it's best to keep them in their natural habitat.

There are 40 species of cats—not even counting the 70-plus breeds of domestic cats—naturally distributed on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. The wide distribution and wide evolutionary divergence between these species—and the difficulty of identifying specific species through fossils—makes logical classification difficult for researchers. A 2006 survey of feline fossils suggested an explanation: cats expanded from Asia to the Americas via the Bering land bridge.

But while human migrations occurred only 20,000 years ago and appeared to be mostly one-way, cats appear to have migrated back and forth as many as 10 times starting 9 million years ago. As successful and highly mobile predators, cats are often at the mercy of prey migration patterns and population shifts. Given the generally high reproductive rates and lack of natural predators in felines, you're left with a species that is driven to expand and able to adapt quickly to new environments. Armed with this DNA evidence, scientists are piecing together the histories of these various lineages, and some fascinating stories are developing. Cheetahs, both the fastest land mammals and a highly specialized predator, appear to have been bred specifically for the Sahara, but they appear to have formed a species in North America and then somehow made the long-distance migration back to Africa 3 million years ago.

There are four kinds of animals distributed on both sides of the Bering Strait, and the story of the lynx is the most interesting. Age plays a role in this. The ancestor of all modern bobcats — the Lynx issiodorensis — didn't develop in North America until four million years ago. Since they bred on both sides of the Bering Strait before their last disappearance, we can reliably witness how isolation and environmental factors split one dedicated arctic carnivore into four distinct species. This is the story of how the Bobcats became what they are today.

lynx-cats-1 type
Populations of the Iberian lynx are concentrated in Spain and Portugal.

©tony mills/Shutterstock.com

bobcat characteristics

Few people would describe the bobcat as an ordinary cat. While each type of bobcat has clearly adapted to their habitat, it turns out that they all retain some unique traits that both set them apart from other cats and demonstrate enough flexibility to Can survive in multiple species in multiple habitats.

One of the most distinctive features of all bobcats is their stubby tails. There is some debate in the community as to whether these developed as evolutionary advantages or simply genetic defects with neutral survival potential. It is widely believed that bobcats can survive without tails, as they spend most of their time on the ground, usually only jumping up trees to perch.

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Since a cat's long, highly articulated tail is often used for balance, bobcats have little to lose without it. It has been speculated that natural selection for bobcats with shorter tails is due to the fact that a long, moving tail may resemble a snake's posture, possibly alerting prey.

All types of bobcats have unique physical characteristics that make them excellent ground hunters, especially in the snow. The unusually long legs of various lynx species allow them to quickly close the distance between prey—a trait that may be necessary for the bobcat's lack of vertical advantage when hunting.

Although they don't often linger in the treetop canopy, it has been shown that they do perch on tree tops — as a way to find prey or hide from predators. But those dancer legs are most valuable when trying to cross ice and snow, and can give bobcats a fighting advantage when chasing lighter prey that is easier to escape, like hares and mice.

Most types of bobcats still have a special snow-navigation tool in their DNA: broad, round feet covered with fine hairs that spread the predator's weight more evenly and function much like snowshoes. The thickness of a bobcat's fur—as well as its size, color, and longevity—can tell us a lot about an animal's habitat, but the scientific community is still not entirely sure what the black tufts on top of each bobcat's head serve. The popular theory is that they complement the bobcat species' exceptionally long facial whiskers, giving them a more sophisticated sense of what's going on above.

1. Canadian Lynx

Canadian bobcats have a remarkable instinct for detecting white rabbits in the snow.

© iStock.com/Lynn_Bystrom

The Canadian lynx is a case study both in how animals evolve to fit very specific environmental niches and in the direct impact of fluctuations in prey populations on their health. The Canadian lynx's diet typically consists of 75 percent snowshoe rabbits, and the researchers noticed an incredible synchrony between Canada's bobcat and hare populations. They have even been able to identify recurring and interconnected population cycles that repeat every decade.

Litter size can vary from one to two, but has been shown to adjust to times of feast or famine. But the ultimate arbiter of survival is winter. Adult Canadian bobcats can survive even severe winters, and calf mortality will be proportional to prey availability. The presence of a healthy adult population allows bobcats to rapidly expand in size when the hares begin to repopulate.

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Canadian bobcats and snowshoe hares appear to have evolved together. The Canadian lynx has retained and expanded the traits its ancestors developed for survival in the Arctic, while the snowshoe hare can list the ability to change color as a defense mechanism. Each winter, these tame herbivores turn from brown to white. Unfortunately, climate change in the habitat is affecting these seasonal pigment changes. This makes snowshoe rabbits more vulnerable to predators, but it also forces the bobcat to increasingly compete with other predators — such as wolves, wolverines and coyotes. Canadian bobcats have developed a remarkable instinct to detect white rabbits in the snow. Without this advantage, the fact would favor larger, more organized predators over them.

2. Iberian Lynx

Iberian lynx usually have three cubs.

©iStock.com/RamonCarretero

If the Canadian lynx shows how two species depend on each other and how both can persist through extreme cycles of feast and famine, the Iberian lynx shows what can happen when unknown disasters enter the equation. Scientists aren't quite sure what caused Iberian lynx populations to be so concentrated in Spain and Portugal, but their range once stretched as far as France. The Iberian lynx is one of the smaller species on the bobcat list. Their coloring and some features have been adjusted to better suit more temperate climates, but they hunt in a similar way to the Canadian lynx. They also subsist mainly on rabbits.

But the introduction of a disease called myxomatosis — which a scientist unleashed to control the pest in his garden — has decimated rabbit numbers in traditional Iberian lynx habitats. They also face other complications. Habitat loss and climate change have severely impacted the Iberian lynx's chances of survival. Adding to the difficulty of their recovery is an odd behavior, with pups often fighting to the death between the ages of two and three.

After Iberian lynx breed, they usually give birth to three cubs. Almost always dies before the end of the third year. Despite the threats, dedicated and targeted conservation efforts have achieved promising success. Since the global population has dwindled to about 100/hundred individuals, the population has now grown to over 1,000 individuals.

3. Eurasian Lynx

The Eurasian lynx has the longest lifespan among the bobcat species.

©Tomas Hulik ARTpoint/Shutterstock.com

The Eurasian lynx is the largest of the bobcat species, allowing it a more generalist approach to prey hunting and the ability to more easily compete with other predator species. This gives the Eurasian lynx a range throughout Europe, Central and East Asia. Their local population sizes can vary widely across their habitats due to poaching and organized government efforts to kill these predators. But they have proven to be resilient survivors, and the only bobcats that prefer to feed on ungulates like fawn. But in bad times, they may rely on smaller prey such as mice and rabbits.

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The Eurasian lynx is also the longest-lived of the bobcat species, living up to 17 years in the wild. Relatively few natural enemies and a wider range of food options than other lynx species may have played a role in the Eurasian lynx's ability to recover. But they're also very successful at hiding in their surroundings. Territory is often strict and exclusive, and these solitary carnivores are effective at finding a nest that is hidden and out of sight while patrolling. Activist efforts have brought back the Eurasian lynx across much of Europe.

4. Lynx

Bobcats are the smallest of the bobcats.

©iStock.com/Anita Elder Design

Bobcats are the smallest of the bobcat breeds, rarely reaching two feet in height—and they're also the breed furthest from their origins as arctic hunting cats. Descendants of the bobcat migrated to North America before the arrival of the Canadian bobcat. When they find themselves isolated by climatic conditions, they gradually adapt to more temperate climates. This allows them to spread across large areas of the United States and Mexico, but they rarely like to extend their hunting range into snowy areas. The bobcat's body has adapted paws designed for deep snow and a coat made for severe cold. Bobcats understandably rarely venture into Canadian bobcat territory, but hybrids have been reported. They also sometimes mate with domesticated felines.

The lynx has given up much of what its ancestors had, but at the same time it has become highly adaptable to a wide range of climates. They have the traditionally long hind legs of bobcats, which they can use effectively to pounce on prey and escape into the branches. This is the smallest feline on the bobcat shortlist, so it's surprising to see how opportunistic a bobcat can be as a predator. They have been known to feed on small prey such as squirrels and mice, larger prey such as chickens and ducks, and even occasionally ungulates such as deer. Nor are they resigned to subsisting on another animal's food. Bobcats can choose to be fussy because of their unusual appetites. They can go days without food and then overeat as much as they can. Larger prey are usually hidden and consumed over time.

summarize

Here is a list of Lynxes around the world:

No breed name Habitat
1 canadian lynx North America
2 iberian lynx south west europe
3 eurasian lynx Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Himalayas
4 lynx Distributed in North America

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