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Major Characteristics of the American Bobcat

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American bobcats (Lynx rufus) are found throughout most of North America, apart from northern Canada. They can adapt to many habitats, including forests, mountains, brushland, semidesert, wooded farmland and conifer swamps, and they are increasingly taking up residence in suburban and urban areas. Bobcats possess many characteristics of a true wildcat, but they also share a few with house cats.

Physical Characteristics

American bobcats are about twice the size of their domestic counterparts. They have long legs and big paws. Their fur comes in a range of buff and browns, with dark brown or black stripey and mottled markings, and a white underbelly. They have ruffs of fur around their faces, tufted ears, and are named after their short black-tipped tails that appear to have been bobbed. Bobcats' sight, hearing and sense of smell are all excellent. In the wild they can live to 12 years old, and there is a record of one wild bobcat surviving to 16 years.

Social Characteristics and Lifestyle

American bobcats are solitary and territorial. Both sexes defend their territories, and scent mark the boundaries to ward off other cats. Males have large home ranges -- up to 40 square miles -- and their territories can overlap with those of several females. Bobcats are not overly vocal, but in the mating season communicate with screams and by yowling, hissing and spitting.

Bobcats are shy, elusive creatures and mainly nocturnal, so they are rarely seen by people. They roam three to seven miles in a night, traveling and hunting on the ground, although these wildcats can climb well. During the day, they sleep in dens, in rock crevices, hollow trees and thickets. Bobcats are active throughout the year.

Hunting and Diet

Bobcats prey on rabbits, rodents and ground birds, and they will tackle prey that's larger than them, like white-tailed deer. They sometimes take reptiles, and occasionally poultry and small pets. On very rare occasions they will eat fruit and may scavenge carrion. Bobcats stalk their prey before pouncing on them, and can cover 10 feet when they leap. Once caught, prey is dispatched by biting through the neck vertebrae.

Reproduction Characteristics

The bobcats' breeding system is similar to domestic cats, as they only get together to mate and both sexes can have a number of partners. They breed annually, usually in early spring, and after 60 to 70 days, one to four kittens -- the average is three -- are born in a hidden den. The mothers are solely responsible for rearing the kittens. They nurse their helpless young until weaned at around 2 months old, and when the kittens are 3 to 5 months they start learning to hunt.The young bobcats become fully independent at about 8 months, and the females will be able to breed by the next spring, but males are 2 years old before they are sexually mature.