A bobcat is much larger than a house cat and has a spotted coat. Note that the underside of the tip of the tail is white, not black as with a lynx.
All thoughts of birds flew out the window as soon as we identified the animal in the road in front of us as a bobcat. We were cruising a dead-end road in Big Bend National Park in western Texas and birding was our objective. This park has many species found nowhere else in the U.S. and we hoped to see a few. A bobcat, though, despite being a common animal throughout the continental U.S. and Mexico, was a treasured experience. Most of my encounters with bobcats have been fleeting at best and this one was in no hurry to leave the warm early morning sun.
When I wrote about bobcats in 2006, I identified their scientific name as Felis rufus. As is so common with taxonomy, that name has changed as more taxonomists have come to agree that the bobcat is one of four members of the lynx family and should be properly named, Lynx rufus.
The other members of the lynx genus are the Canadian or North American lynx, the Eurasian lynx and the Iberian lynx. It would be natural to assume that the bobcat and the Canadian lynx share the closest relationship as they are most closely associated geographically today, but taxonomists say that isn’t so. The bobcat most likely evolved from the Eurasian lynx when it crossed the Bering land bridge during the Pleistocene. This population was cut off from the land bridge during the Ice Age evolving into bobcats about 20,000 years ago. In a later event, other Eurasian lynx again crossed the land bridge and eventually became the Canadian lynx.
All four lynx members and their respective subspecies have several things in common. All of them have a spotted coat, although the spotting is highly variable. They all have pointed tufts of hair that extend well past the end of the ears. They all have a short tail with a black tip, although the black on the bobcat’s tail doesn’t extend to the bottom of the tail like the other lynxes do. All species also have tufts of fur hanging down from their jowls, something like mutton-chop sideburns. This adds a lot of character and broadens the face, making the head look larger. The Eurasian and Canadian lynx as well as the bobcat have hind legs longer than the front legs which gives them a sort of swaggering gait.
The most interesting differences are in habitat and food preferences. Lynxes are specialists, strongly tied to forested habitats and abundant prey populations. They also specialize on one type of prey. For the Canadian lynx it is the snowshoe hare. For Eurasian and Iberian lynx, it is the European rabbit.
Bobcats are not so fussy. These amazing animals inhabit virtually every type of habitat that does not have deep snow. We saw them in the Chihuahuan Desert, but they occupy wetlands, woods, plains and other deserts across the country. About the only places they do not fare well in are large expanses of farmed land and cities.
And bobcats aren’t picky eaters. While they prefer a diet of hares and rabbits, small rodents, reptiles, birds and more are always on the menu. And, unlike lynx, a bobcat is willing and able to take larger game, up to eight times its body weight (a large male bobcat may weigh up to 50 pounds). I have seen videos of bobcats killing mule deer fawns. And a friend of mine did his research on bobcats that specialized on hunting white-tailed deer on an island in South Carolina to the point of being one of the main forces controlling the deer population.
Lynx may fade from our world (the Iberian lynx is endangered) as they aren’t good at adapting to change. However, as long as there is habitat of just about any type, we’ll have bobcats and that is a bit of good news.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho