The bobcat (Felis rufus) is a wild North American cat related to the Canadian lynx. Its name references its short, or “bobbed” tail, and it is also distinguished by its tufted ears. Male and female bobcats can be distinguished easily by body characteristics, such as size, as well as their tracks, their ranges and visible signs relating to reproduction. However, humans rarely observe bobcats in the wild due to the cats’ elusive nature.
The most readily apparent difference between female and male bobcats’ appearance is size. Adult males are about 3 feet in length and weigh between 20 and 30 pounds, while adult females measure substantially less. Some females can be just more than 2 feet in length and only 11 pounds, smaller than some large house cats. Both males and females are smaller than most other wild cats, including their close relative the Canadian lynx.
Bobcat tracks have a distinctive round shape, displaying four toe prints and no claw prints. Skilled trackers and bobcat experts can tell the difference between a male bobcat’s track and a female’s. A male’s track is generally larger than a females, with rounder and more prominent toe shapes. The larger heel pad appears closer to the toes than in a female’s track. In addition to being smaller and more spaced, the female’s track takes a more oval shape.
Visible over time, rather than in a single observation of bobcats, is the difference in size of males’ and females’ home ranges. All bobcats have territories that include rocky or wooded cover for shelter, but males’ territories are much larger than females’. In western Washington state, for example, a male’s home range is about twice that of a female’s. Males take a larger range for its mating options, while females are believed to maintain a smaller range for close rearing of young.
Physical traits and visible behaviors relating to mating and parenting are also observable in male and female bobcats. Males and females are only found together during courtship and mating, with females displaying clear signs of estrus prior to pregnancy. A bobcat observed with a den of kittens, bringing meat to young, demonstrating hunting skills or performing other parenting tasks is always a female, as males do not play a role in raising young.
- National Geographic: Bobcat
- Animal Diversity Web: Lynx Rufus - Bobcat
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Living With Wildlife - Bobcats
- Alderleaf Wilderness College: Bobcat Tracks - Determining Male Versus Female
- Mississippi State University: Carnivore Ecology Research Project - Bobcat (Lynx Rufus)
- Feline Conservation Federation: Bobcat Breeding Experiences
E. Anne Hunter has more than a decade of experience in education, with a focus on visual design and instructional technology. She holds a master's degree in education. Hunter has contributed to several professional publications, covering education, design, music and fitness, among other topics.