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Posts Tagged ‘bobcat’

Bobcat poo turns chalky white when it gets old. There is a lot of calcium carbonate in the feces, which means they turn chalky when left exposed for a few days.

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Bobcat on the prowl

I’ve been wanting to get one on the trail cam all summer. Finally paid off!

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Bobcat track in the thaw

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Bobcat (top) and Canada lynx (bottom) from James Ellsworth De Kay's Preliminary List of the Mammals of New York (1842).

North America has two lynx species– the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and the bobcat (Lynx rufus). Historically they have been regarded as being members of a single species that includes the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), the largest and most widespread member of the genus in the Old World.

Both bobcats and Canada lynx evolved from the Eurasian lynx.  The lineage that led to the modern bobcat is believed to have diverged from the ancestral Eurasian lynx population around 2 million years ago.

The Eurasian lynx is a generalist carnivoran. It hunts a wide variety of prey, including deer and small rodents. It once ranged from the British Isles to the the Russian Far East and is found as far south as the Himalayas.

It widely varies in size from as little as 22 pounds to (officially) as much as 84 pounds.

These traits also exist in the bobcat species, which varies from as little as 9 pounds to as much as 49 pounds.

Note that the scale is much smaller for the bobcat than the Eurasian lynx.

Bobcats are essentially miniature versions of their Old World ancestor. They also hunt a wide variety of prey species ranging from mice to mule deer. The southern subspecies of bobcat are quite a bit smaller than those in the north of their range, which allows them to fill the niche of a small mesopredator. The northern subspecies are quite different, and in some areas, including West Virginia, they eat a lot of deer.

Bobcats evolved their smaller size as a result of the conditions during the last glacial maximum. They have only existed in their current form for about 20,000 years.

The advancing glaciers kept the gene flow from other ancestral Eurasian lynx from entering North America, but eventually, another wave of Eurasian lynx migration happened in the northernmost part of North America. It is not clear exactly when this happened, but the lynx population that colonized this part of North America evolved very differently from the bobcat. These cats likely evolved in the northern part of the continent that was at times free from the ice sheets but were still separated from the bobcats by glaciers that were further to the south.

Whereas the bobcat had retained much of its ancestor’s generalist behavior, these northern North American lynx became specialists. Perhaps the only prey available for lynx living in the far north were snowshoe hares, for these lynx became very much adapted to hunting only that prey.

These lynx became the modern Canada lynx, which is sometimes incorrectly called the “Canadian lynx.”    If a bobcat and a Canada lynx are in Canada, they are both Canadian lynx, just as if you find a Canada goose and a snow goose in Canada, they are both Canadian geese. But the actual species for both the goose and the lynx are “Canada goose” and “Canada lynx.”

Throughout its range, Canada lynx are almost entirely dependent upon snowshoe hares for sustenance. Snowshoe hares are prone to boom and bust cycles of population growth, and the Canada lynx population largely tracks snowshoe hare populations.

Because it hunts almost nothing but snowshoe hares, the Canada lynx is also smaller than the Eurasian lynx, but unlike the Eurasian lynx and bobcat, its size variance is more conservative, generally weighing only between 18 and 24 pounds. It is a longer legged cat than the bobcat, and it generally weighs more than the majority of bobcats. However, the largest bobcats are larger than the typical Canada lynx.

The only place in North America where Canada lynx existed without snowshoe hares was Newfoundland, and here the Canada lynx either re-evolved its generalist habits and somewhat larger size or it is the one subspecies of Canada lynx that has retained the generalist habits and phenotype of its Eurasian ancestor. Whatever the case, the Newfoundland subspecies of Canada lynx is known to attack caribou, but its numbers were always quite low in Newfoundland, leading some to speculate that the Canada lynx was never native to the island.

This all changed when snowshoe hares were introduced to the island between 1864 and 1876.  The hares were introduced as a supplemental food species for colonists on the island, and when the hares arrived, they were without any competition. Arctic hares lived in the north and west of Newfoundland, but they have very different habits from snowshoes.

The snowshoe hares thrived and greatly multiplied, and the Canada lynx population skyrocketed along with the hares. By the early 1900’s, the snow shoe hares had thoroughly colonized the island.

Then, they reached their carrying capacity, and as normally happens on the mainland, the snowshoe hare population began to drop. Leaving behind lots of hungry Canada lynx.

As I noted before, the Newfoundland subspecies of Canada lynx is capable of hunting caribou.

And many of the cats started doing just that.

And then the caribou numbers began to drop.

However, initially no one knew that the Canada lynx was somehow implicated in reducing caribou numbers.

Many caribou were dying as young calves– from bizarre bacterial infections that were almost always accompanied by some weird puncture marks on the neck.

It took a while to figure out that these bacterial infections were coming from failed predation attempts by Canada lynx. The puncture marks on the necks were those of the lynx’s teeth, which, for whatever reason, didn’t often produce a killing bite.

When it was discovered that Canada lynx were reducing caribou numbers, lynx trapping and hunting limits were liberalized, and there was an increase in the endemic Newfoundland caribou herds.

(You can read more about the Canada lynx, hare, and caribou dynamic on this post. It took only the introduction of snowshoe hares to disrupt the whole predator-prey dynamic in Newfoundland.)

But with the exception of Newfoundland, Canada lynx are not implicated as being any kind of major predator to large ungulates.

The larger subspecies of bobcat, however, do take deer on a relatively regular basis.

These larger bobcats are actually much more aggressive than Canada lynx, and where their ranges overlap, the bobcats generally dominate the lynx.

The range overlaps over most of the Canada lynx’s range in the United States and in the southern tier of Canada.

And not only do bobcats dominate Canada lynx, there is also evidence of introgression of bobcat genes into the Canada lynx population. As of 2008, seven Canada lynx/bobcat hybrids were documented in the states of Maine and Minnesota and the province of New Brunswick. Non-overlapping allele frequency analysis revealed that these cats all had some bobcat ancestry, and mtDNA evidence revealed that they all had a Canada lynx as a mother. One queen had three kittens, which shows that hybrids are able to reproduce in the wild, and another queen had placental scars in her reproductive tract.

The male-female combination in the hybrids is pretty similar to what we know about the the behavior of the two cats.  Bobcats are  just much more aggressive than Canada lynx. Because the female bobcat is quite aggressive, it would be very hard for a male Canada lynx to mate with her, but the male bobcat is aggressive enough to drive male Canada lynx away from their mates.

Of course, there is some suggestion that bobcats are starting to thrive in lynx habitat because of climate change, and that very well may be. But Canada lynx once were found very deep into bobcat range. In the Eastern US, they ranged as far south as West Virginia, which does have a population of snowshoe  hares. Perhaps during the Little Ice Age, snowshoe hares were much more widely distributed in West Virginia than they are now, which allowed the Canada lynx to colonize this far south. There is also some possibility that there were very large Canada lynx type cats in the Alleghenies, as this historical record suggests. Perhaps these large gray lynx were an offshoot of a Canada lynx population that moved south and evolved to hunt deer– or maybe they were a primitive Canada lynx that still possessed their ancestral Eurasian lynx size.  (Or it could have been a damn tall tale. Never discount that possibility!)

If Canada lynx ranged this far south, then there likely would have been a gene flow between bobcats and lynx.   It is possible that there could have always been some hybridization between the species once the glaciers separating the two were gone.

We honestly don’t know how much hybridization has happened between bobcats and Canada lynx. Currently, the suggestion is that hybridization isn’t common, but the genetic studies on bobcats and Canada lynx are somewhat limited– especially when compare them to wolves and coyotes, which recently were recently examined in the most in depth genomic assay ever performed on wild animals.

Something similar to the genome-wide study on coyotes and wolves needs to be performed on Canada lynx and bobcats. If one were peformed, I bet we’d find that those two animals have exchanged genes quite a bit in the past and continue to do so now. Perhaps they even have a species complex.

Roughly two million years of evolution separates the bobcat from the Canada lynx, which is more closely related to the Eurasian lynx than the bobcat.

But two million years may not be enough separation for the two cats to regard each other as separate species.

The little generalist lynx of North America meets its gray, hare hunting cousin.

The exact taxonomy of the two species has remained contentious for decades.

Initially they were regarded as different subspecies of lynx– and were conspecific with the Eurasian lynx.  Later, they Canada lynx was made a subspecies of Eurasian lynx, and the bobcat was moved into the house cat genus– Lynx rufus became Felis rufus.

Currently, we recognize that bobcats and Canada lynx are close relatives. Both derive from the ancestral Eurasian lynx, but both of these North American derivatives has gone its own way.

At least in the aggregate.

They have gone their own way.

But they have also converged.

How much they have converged is anyone’s guess– more studies need to be peformed.

But the genus Lynx has had a remarkable evolutionary history in North America.

And it may have a remarkable evolutionary future.

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The following description is of a giant gray lynx that was killed in Pennsylvania in 1874. It comes from Henry Wharton Shoemaker’s Extinct Pennsylvania Animals (1919) :

John G. Davis, old-time woodsman of McElhattan, Clinton County, gives the best description of a mammoth Canada Lynx killed by John Pluff at Hyner, in that county, in 1874. Pluff, who was a noted hunter in his day, died in January, 1914, in his 74th year. One evening, when Pluff was at supper, he heard a commotion in his barnyard. Taking down his rifle, he hurried out, only to notice a shaggy animal moving about among the feet of his young cattle. Courageously driving the steers into the barn, he came face to face with a gigantic Canada Lynx, or, as was called in Northern Pennsylvania, a “Big Grey Wild Cat,” or catamount, to distinguish it from the smaller and ruddier Bay Lynx [bobcat].

Taking aim at the monster’s jugular, Pluff fired, killing the big cat with a single ball. The shot attracted the neighbors, among them Davis, and they gazed with amazement at the giant carcass, the biggest cat killed in those parts since Sam Snyder slew his 10-foot panther on Young Woman’s Creek in 1858. The Canada Lynx measured 4 feet, 10 inches from tip of nose to root of tail—(the tail measured 4 inches)—and weighed 75 pounds.

The next day being Thanksgiving, it was supplemented to the turkey feast, and all enjoyed the deliriously flavored white meat more than the conventional “Thanksgiving bird.” This lynx was probably a straggler from the Northern Tier, as none of its kind have been about Hyner since. At the same time, the Canada Lynx has been killed in many parts of Pennsylvania, as far south as the Seven Mountains and Somerset County, some claim, but never frequently. It hangs close to the main chain of the Allegheny Mountains, if it can make a living there (pg. 183-184).

Now, this story should be taken with a grain of salt.

Exaggerated sizes for large predators are almost de rigueur for frontier stories.

But I don’t dismiss it out of hand.

The typical Canada lynx is big at about 40 inches in length, and it weighs only 18 to 24 pounds.  They are rangier than bobcats, but they will weigh less than the biggest bobcat.

This 75- pound  “lynx” in Pennsylvania doesn’t sound like a Canada lynx to me at all.

The truth is we really don’t have a good handle on the native mammals of North America that lived before the modern conservation movement.

I think it is very possible that there were very large lynx in the United States. This animal could have been a very large gray bobcat, for bobcats are well-known to vary greatly in size. Canada lynx actually don’t. Throughout their range, they are essentially the same size– 18-24 pounds.

This particular cat– if it did weigh 75 pounds– probably wasn’t built like the rangy Canada lynx we know today. It would have had to have been a particularly robust creature.

Or it could have been a unique species of lynx that we never were able to document before it became extinct.

There is the persistent story of the Ozark howler, a giant black bobcat that lived in the mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, and I think it might be possible for European man to have made it impossible for large lynx and bobcats to survive.

After all, a farmer is much more likely to tolerate a 25-pound bobcat than a 75-pound bobcat or lynx.

Eurasian lynx to reach this size, and they are very effective predators of deer.

And it is well-known that bobcats and Canada lynx evolved from the Eurasian lynx.

Traditional accounts say that the bobcat became diminutive to avoid competition with already extant large predators in North America, and the Canada lynx invaded the continent in a later wave, where it became established in the Northern part of the continent as a snowshoe hare specialist.

But could there have been large lynx-type cats in North America in modern times?

I don’t know how good the evidence is, but we do have these tantalizing historical accounts that make us wonder.

Maybe there were large bobcats and/or undocumented lynx species in North America during an earlier time, and these animals were wiped out because of the potential threat they posed toward livestock.

Again, I am very skeptical that this cat was a Canada lynx. Canada lynx are actually quite poor at preying upon livestock and deer. Bobcats are actually much better at it.

The size of this animal could be a mere exaggeration, but we do have Eurasian lynx that are that size.

So it’s possible.

But what it exactly was is still a unanswered and unanswerable question.

It’s fun to speculate, eh?

I can’t decide whether it’s a mere exaggeration or if there actually was a lynx or bobcat of that size.

It’s up in the air for me!

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I’m not sure in which state these photos were taken, but it’s obviously a large bobcat killing a mule deer fawn. Canada lynx don’t have obvious leopard-type spots.

Bobcats do kill deer. In my home state, a survey of bobcat stomach contents found that white-tailed deer were their most common food item.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t include these trailcam photos of a bobcat killing what appears to be an adult white-tailed doe.

See related post:

 

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This cat was killed in 1984 in Marinette County, Wisconsin, which is “up Nort’.”  This cat weighed 48.9 pounds.

That’s the largest official record for a bobcat, but there have always been unconfirmed claims of bobcats weighing as much as 60 or even 70 pounds, which is close to the size of the Eurasian lynx. I don’t automatically reject these claims, but I am very skeptical of them. It is possible that there were very large bobcats at one time, and these were killed off as European settlers moved in. However, they were not weighed and fully documented, so we don’t know if these claims are true.

Without this important documentation, we have to accept that the largest bobcat on record was this Wisconsin bobcat.

Bobcats vary greatly in size. 12 or 13 pound queens are not unusual in much of their range. It is only in the northern parts of their range where the toms get so large. These largest bobcats actually weigh more than the Canada lynx, which does not have such wide variances in size.

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I had never actually looked at the historic range for the Canada lynx, and I was more than a little shocked to find this map from the National Geographic Society.

They were here!

I then came across some analysis  that claims that Virginia was within the cats’ historic range, but this may be slightly in error.

When the lynx where here, this region was within the Commonwealth of Virginia, which became the union state of West Virginia in 1863.  Virginia, in case you didn’t know, was busy trying to be part of another country in 1863.

One must keep in mind that the distinctions between Canada lynx and bobcats were not as clearly defined as they are now. I have come across sources that talk about a lynx in Texas, which most obviously was the bobcat.

The two cats are actually quite closely related and can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. They very rarely do so in the wild, because bobcats are much more aggressive with each other than Canada lynx are.

Contrary to what you may have read, Canada lynx are not necessarily larger than bobcats either. The bobcat varies much more in size, and many bobcats, especially in the subtropical parts of the South, are quite small animals, only weighing around 10 to 15 pounds. However, the biggest bobcat on record was much larger than this. It was shot in Marinette County, Wisconsin, and it weighed over 48 pounds. The Canada lynx is usually in the 18-25 pound range.  The northernmost bobcats are  generally larger than Canada lynx.  The reason why people think they are much larger is that Canada lynx have much longer legs than a bobcat.  Longer legs and thicker fur give the illusion that the Canada lynx is the same size as a mid-sized dog.

Besides human depredations and habitat loss, there are several reasons why the Canada lynx isn’t found in much of the United states anymore. Bobcats are much more adept at killing large prey than Canada lynx, which is a snowshoe hare specialist. Snowshoe hares aren’t as widespread in the East and Midwest as they once were. In West Virginia, there are fears that snowshoe hares could become very rare in the near future, and if lynx and bobcat were to ever compete, the lynx would be much more tightly regulated by snowshoe hare numbers. Bobcats, being the generalists of all generalists, would be able to take other prey.

But even at that, I can tell you that my grandpa actually saw a Canada lynx while turkey hunting.

He told me it was the size and color of Norwegian elkhound. He initially mistook it for a dog of that belonged to someone he knew in that area. The cat probably didn’t weigh as much as an elkhound, but they are about the same height at the shoulder. If the lynx had been thickly furred, it would have contributed to its elkhoundish appearance.  Elkhounds are not cats with short tails, and they lack the very large tufts on the ears, which also would suggest that this animal was not a bobcat.

My grandpa was always very clear that it wasn’t a bobcat. Bobcats are relatively common in this part of the world, and the main color phase of the bobcat here are very thickly speckled. At at distance, Canada lynx appear almost pure gray in color.

What was it doing in West Virginia?

It could have been from a relict population, but this is unlikely. There are no snowshoe hares in the part of the state where he encountered it, and if one were to ever find native lynx in West Virginia, it would almost have to be found in prime snowshoe hare territory.

These cats do disperse a long way from their mother’s territories– especially young toms. It is possible that one from Canada or the Great Lakes states could have wandered down.

But I think it is much more likely it was one that had originally been kept as a pet and then released into the wild.

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From a Life Magazine article called “Death of a Bobcat” (3 December 1945).

There is a whole photo montage of these hounds baying up a bobcat ion Oregon.

The title of the article sort of gives away the ending.

Yes.  Old Spot dispatches the bobcat.

So if you’re a little sensitive about dogs killing things, I would suggest that you not go to the link to the Life article.

Such an article would not appear in a national magazine like Life today.

If it did, there would be a very negative tone to the whole piece and either the HSUS or PETA (People Euthanizing Thousands of Animals) would be quoted.

This bobcat suffered very little in its life– no more so than any wild animal would.

Its death at the jaws of a dog is no more horrific than if it had been killed by a natural predator, which in Oregon at this time, would have been the cougar.

In terms of the amount of suffering the animal experienced in its life, it suffered far less than most farmed animals– certainly less than the bobcats and lynx that are farmed for their fur.

Today, if Old Spot were still alive, he would be deemed a vicious animal, even though he was most likely a friendly old Walker hound that had no more interest in biting someone than he would in driving a car.

Dogs and humans have become “more domesticated” since then– at least in the eyes of too many.   The same too many who have spent their lives too far away from the natural world. The natural world is violent by necessity. It is not moral in its violence either.  It is simply violence– poetic and sweet in its timelessness and amorality. For it will be the same when our species, the species that actually has power to destroy the whole of animate creation in a nuclear holocaust, becomes extinct.

Too many people think that predatory behavior by either is inherently evil. Too many people believe that hunting is a form of sadism. And to hunt with dogs is somehow analogous to Michael Vick’s dog fighting escapades.

It simply is not.

The bobcat had ample opportunity to avoid the hounds. Perhaps it could take to the trees or double back on its trail to fool the hounds. Hounds are not infallible in their sniffing. If they were, every hound would bag something every time he gets taken out.  If the hounds are timorous, a bobcat can bluff its way out of the situation, or cat could box some ears and send the dog back home in disgrace.

Dog fighting has as much to do with this type of hunting as the Roman circuses did.  Gladiatoral events aren’t about fair chase. They were always about guaranteed pain and suffering.  That is not the case in a fair chase hunt with hounds. There is always a very good chance that the prey will escape.

Bobcats evolved to experience some level of predation. They are mesopredators, generally living on diets of rabbits and small game. Some, like the ones in West Virginia, do eat a lot of deer.  Before colonization and European settlement, the bobcats had to worry about both wolves and cougars. Now, they worry about nothing. A coyote might take a kitten here and there, but they have no real predators once they reach adulthood.

Hunting these cats allows something like natural predation to occur.  Numbers get checked a bit.

Hunting them with hounds also put the fear of God into all the bobcats that escape the dogs, teaching them to avoid people and dogs at all costs.  Bobcats can become nuisances around poultry, kids, and lambs, but if they are hunted with both dogs and people, they learn to stay away from us.

That reduces conflict between agricultural enterprises and wildlife– always a positive thing for those of us who truly appreciate nature.

To defend hunting is not to say that one is a Republican or a conservative. I am neither of those things.

But one thing I do resist is this sort of “cultural imperialism by yuppies” that is being waged in the post-materialist West.

If such a thing were done to traditional hunting cultures in other parts of the world, the very same people would be crying foul. How can Israel ban hunting with Salukis? That’s so disrespectful to the Bedouin culture!  How can the government of Brazil ban aboriginal hunting?  That’s cultural imperialism!

I agree with those sentiments in both of those cases, but I apply the same standard to my own society.

And for that, I probably won’t get a lot of plaudits from some sectors.

But it is morally consistent.

One cannot obsess over the life of every animal.  Having different standards for different species appears to be something like racism. The analogy is false, of course, for we do recognize that some animals have value as individuals (dogs and cats) and others have value as species (livestock and wild animals). Humans have always categorized animals in such ways, and we have good reasons for doing so.

The animals we love have intrinsic value as individuals because they do not exist a ecological or biological entities. They exist within the frameworks of our societies.

Livestock also exists within human society, but the purpose of their existence is also fundamentally different. They have been developed to be a food source. Not every person can be a vegan and thrive. Not every person wants that lifestyle.  Thus, we have to have a different category for livestock, and livestock must exist.  There will never be “animal liberation.”  If humans were like gorillas in their dietary needs and desires, maybe.

The animals we keep for vivisection also have an important reason for being. There are simply no alternatives to vivisection in every circumstance, and if I have to choose between a cure for Alzheimer’s and cancer and the lives of any animals, I choose the cure. The danger in choosing otherwise is to diminish the value of human life, which we recognize has value simply because each of us understands and values our own existence. When we diminish the lives of our fellow humans, we diminish the value of our own existence. Thus, if we are to truly value ourselves and others, we have to accept that some vivisection has to happen– and we must categorize these animals differently.

Wildlife also has a distinct category for a good reason. Wild animals exist beyond our strictures. There was a time in human history when we viewed wild animals according to the value or cost they provided to our civilization. Fish stocks were valued because they provided cheap and readily accessible protein. Wolves were hated because they killed livestock– a cost to our society. Now, we view these animals differently. We still have those metrics, but those metrics are checked and distorted by our conscious effort to preserve wildlife. I do not view this development as a negative aspect at all, but it is still a far cry from valuing these animals as individuals. Nature never valued these creatures as individuals. The ecosystems in which they exist values them in what they provide to the whole. The species matters, not the individual. Thus, when we rationally discuss managing wildlife, we think about ecosystems and species, not individual animals. If we did, we would be wasting a lot of time and energy, and we’d run into conflicts:  Should we cull the introduced arctic foxes on the Aleutians to save the seabird colonies? If we value the foxes as individuals in the same way we value dogs, we cannot value the ecosystem at all. The foxes would have the same right to exist on the islands as the seabirds and could not be killed.

Because we have different values for different animals and have very good reasons for doing so, there are very good reasons why we view different animals differently. It is entirely rational– and entirely acceptable from a moral sense.

Some animals are more equal than others for a very good reason.

And we should accept it.

 

 

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Bobcat catches groundhog

Source.

I cannot believe these people reacted to the bobcat in this fashion.

I think we’re doomed.

People can’t even appreciate even unambiguously natural predation.

Maybe this is why the quality of nature programming has dipped significantly.

When I was a kid, I used to watch those films were big cats killed things.

And they were wicked awesome.

I guess predators are no longer politically correct, even if they have been a major force in both regulating prey species and driving evolutionary selection pressures.

Bobcats have to eat, too!

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