English Name: bobcat
Spanish Name: lince americano
View all images of Lynx rufus
This species is present in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's live collection.
Probably no other animal evokes the majesty and awe of wild North America as much as does the mountain lion. It is a massively powerful animal, yet lithe, graceful, beautiful, and mysterious.
The lion is shy and elusive, yet we know there are healthy populations of these desert phantoms because we find their tracks, scats and the remains of kills they've made. Most people will never see a mountain lion in the wild, however, because it is a master of camouflage, slipping behind a bush or rock or scrap of shadow and disappearing.
Lions are superbly adapted predators, an essential part of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. They are designed to efficiently kill animals larger than themselves. Lions are built with long hind legs and powerful hindquarters, which give them excellent jumping ability and thrust for great bursts of speed. They have been known to leap 23 feet in a single bound! Huge front paws with sharp claws help to grab the prey, while powerful jaws deliver the killing bite. Lions help maintain the health of deer populations by culling out the weak, sick, old, or injured.
In the Sonoran Desert lions spend their days resting in thick, brushy canyons, rocky outcrops, mine shafts, or any secluded place that provides sufficient cover.
The bobcat is both more common and more widely distributed in the Sonoran Desert than the mountain lion. It hunts smaller prey and can more easily adapt to marginal habitats. This small cat is solitary, avoiding other bobcats, and it is also careful to avoid mountain lions, which will kill it, given the chance. The bobcat is a good climber, retreating to trees for safety, but it prefers to hunt on the ground. The bobcat is mostly nocturnal; like the lion, it is secretive and shy, usually keeping to the more thickly vegetated areas and therefore not often seen by people.
bobcat (Lynx rufus)
The bobcat weighs only about 15 to 22 pounds (7 to 10 kilograms), though its long legs make it appear larger. It has broad cheek ruffs on the sides of its face and a very short tail that is black-tipped on the dorsal surface and white underneath. The bobcat usually has indistinct dark spots on its coat.
Bobcats are most common in rugged, heavily vegetated areas, but can be found in a variety of habitats, such as mountain forests, riparian canyons, and Sonoran Desert uplands. Any area that supports good prey populations will likely also have bobcats.
• Diet: Bobcats are carnivores. The bobcat typically pursues smaller prey, mainly jack rabbits, cottontails, birds, snakes and rodents, but on occasion has been known to take down a deer!
• Behavior: The bobcat hunts by ambush. Sometimes a bobcat wanders in search of prey, investigating brush piles, fallen trees, or rocky areas; at other times it waits for rabbit or rodent activity, then rushes in with a pounce and a lethal bite to the neck. Because the bobcat feeds on smaller prey, it usually has to hunt every day.
Bobcats are solitary, only coming together to mate in early spring. About two months later the mother bobcat seeks out a cave, a rock shelter, or even a hollow tree stump for a den and gives birth to 2 or 3 kittens. The young cats stay with the mother until the fall, hunting on her territory until they gain proficiency, then dispersing. The bobcat's home range is only a few square miles, depending on availability of prey. If prey is scarce the cat may wander extensively. Bobcats don't usually leave kills as evidence of their presence in an area, but they do make scrapes and mark scent posts with urine, often using the same area repeatedly.
The Story of Clyde
Many years ago Clyde, a female bobcat, was confiscated from its human owners by the Arizona Game & Fish Department and brought to the Desert Museum. She was the first bobcat to be housed in the newly completed Small Cat Habitat. But not for long. She slipped out one night and thereupon decided to be a wild, rather than a semi-tame, exhibited bobcat. Despite our efforts we could not locate her and worried about her survival. Time would prove that we were worrying needlessly.
A few weeks after Clyde's disappearance her picture appeared in a local newspaper. She had been found in the carport of a home several miles from the Museum. Game & Fish personnel had been called, and had captured and released her in the foothills north of Tucson, where over the next few years she was seen and identified three times.
Once her timing and mine were uncanny. One day driving through the area in which she had been released, I was startled to find her atop a utility pole, having been chased there by dogs. Once the dogs were driven away, she came back down the pole where she muttered and complained in a familiar fashion when I called her name, then turned tail and disappeared into the desert.
About two years later she was sighted in the same general area leading a single kitten; and another year she was spotted with not one, but two young.