The bobcat is a yellowish- to reddish-brown cat streaked and spotted with black. It has long hind legs, a short, broad face, and a short (“bobbed”) tail. The backs of the prominent, pointed ears are black with a central light-colored spot. Ear tufts, when present, are black. Both sexes look alike. The pupils of the eyes are oval (vertically narrowed) in bright light but nearly round in dim light. Bobcats and their dens have a very strong odor.
Total length: 18–50 inches; tail length: 3–8 inches; weight: 8–49 pounds.
Bobcats used to live primarily in the Ozarks and Bootheel, but in recent decades they have expanded westward and northward.
Habitat and Conservation
Bobcats live in heavy forest cover, preferably second-growth timber with much underbrush, broken with clearings such as glades and rocky outcrops. They can inhabit nearly every terrestrial (land) habitat, however.
Rabbits, mice, rats, squirrels, and other small mammals make up most of the diet, as well as deer (some likely eaten as carrion), opossums, domestic cats, wild turkeys, quail, and other animals.
Missouri’s habitat for bobcats has been greatly reduced by hardwood forest clearing and draining of lowlands. Populations seem to be stable, however.
Bobcats are nocturnal and diurnal. There is little social interaction between individuals, who mark territories with fecal matter and urine. Within their ranges, they can travel between 3 and 7 miles nightly, inspecting many objects as they go. Mating begins in December and can extend into June, with the peak in March. Litters of usually 2 to 3 kittens are born after 50 to 70 days, most in May and June. Weaning occurs after two months, and young stay with the female until fall or later.
Bobcat hides provide a strong leather, but the fur wears poorly. Bans on imported furs from various species of cats outside the United States have generally caused a greater demand on bobcat pelts. The Missouri Department of Conservation closely monitors the state’s population to determine when harvesting is appropriate. Especially destructive individuals can be removed by hunting or trapping. Consult the Wildlife Code of Missouri for up-to-date regulations.
As predators and scavengers, bobcats play an important role in the wildlife community.
Signs and Tracks
Front and hind tracks:
- 2 inches long
- 4 toes.
- As with other members of the cat family, the claws are retractable and usually do not leave marks.
- Stride distance is 6–13 inches (walking).
- Pattern is narrow, almost a straight line, with hind feet stepping into tracks made by fore feet.
- The trail often zigzags.
- Tracks of young bobcats are easily confused with those of housecats.