Bobcats in Florida

Shannon Ruby

Question:  I am concerned about mistaking the Florida Bobcat for the Florida Panther.  Could you enlighten your readers?

The bobcat (lynx rufus) is found from southern Canada, throughout the United States and to the higher elevations of southeast Mexico.  In Florida, the bobcat occurs, statewide.  A solitary, mostly nocturnal creature, the bobcat may live up to 14 years in the wild where it makes its home in swamps and forests.  The bobcat may share its habitat with the Florida panther and has often been mistaken for an immature panther.  As a solitary animal, bobcats mark their territories with urine, feces and scrapes and tree scratches placed along the perimeter and within the interior of their range.

Bobcats are members of the cat family, Felidae, and are among the most highly specialized of all mammalian predators.  The name, bobcat comes form the "bobbed" tail, which is as little as one to two inches long, but can reach seven inches in length.  Sometimes called the bay lynx or wildcat, the bobcat can be recognized by its tufted, triangular shaped ears and facial tufts (often called sideburns)  The bobcat also has a distinct pattern of brown or black spots on its coat.  These spots cover the back and legs on reddish buff or gray base color.  The belly of the bobcat is white with black spots.  The backs of the ears are black with white spots in the center.  This coloration acts as a camouflage when the bobcat is hiding in thick growth.

Bobcats can climb and swim.  When wet, the bobcat may appear black.  However, only the tip of the tail is actually black.  The short tail distinguishes the bobcat from an immature "long tailed" panther.  Male bobcats weight twenty to thirty pounds and females weigh between fifteen and twenty five pounds.  The bobcat stands near two feet at the shoulder and can get to be three feet in length.  This makes the bobcat larger than a house cat, smaller than a panther and not large enough to hunt or eat people.  The bobcat is a carnivore feeding on small mammals, birds and occasionally, decaying animal remains.  Breeding and foraging occur within a well defined home area from under a square mile to greater than eighty square miles.

Bobcats prefer hollow logs, tree hollows and almost any opening in the ground as den sites.  Although, they normally mate in the spring, females may give birth in any month, after a gestation period of fifty to sixty days.  A single litter of two to four kittens usually leaves its mother in the autumn of the following year.  However, studies suggest that females in south Florida occasionally produce two litters annually.  Only resident bobcats with established territories raise litters.

Bobcats can live in close proximity to humans, but do not make good pets.  Although, an important predator ecologically, it seldom preys on domestic or game animals.  Occasionally, the bobcat will dig holes in yards or cause disturbances around households.  Exclusionary methods including woven wire enclosures greater than six feet in height are recommended.  To prevent small animals from becoming prey, secure these animals after dark.  The use of bright light will be a deterrent, but may attract other forms of wildlife, such as insects and frogs.

The bobcat occupies a niche at the top of the food chain but has been valued economically for its fur.  Hunting is regulated through the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.  If you experience a problem with bobcats on your property, an authorized nuisance wildlife trapper may be used to remove the animals.  But, if you live in a rural area, make sure you know you are dealing with a bobcat.  When dry, the colors on its coat and its "bobbed" tail should give this creature away.  For more information on bobcats and their ecology, visit www.coryi.org/bobcatecology.htm

Shannon L. Ruby is the Natural Resources/Agricultural Agent with the University of Florida/IFAS and Lee County Extension Service.  You can email her at www.sruby@leegov.com