Bobcat, Florida


Felis rufus


Tail length: 4 to 6 inches; body length: 30 to 43 inches; weight: up to 35 pounds. It has a broad head and tufted, pointed ears, razor-sharp claws, a tawny to olive brown coat with black spots and streaks, and a white, black-spotted belly. The crown is streaked with black and the backs of the ears are heavily marked with black. The short tail has a black tip, but only on the upper side. There is a ruff of fur extending from the ears to the jowls, giving the impression of sideburns.

Family

Felidae

Order

Carnivora

Class

Mammalia

Range

Southern Canada to Baja California and central Mexico

Habitat

Forests, mountainous areas, semi-deserts, and brushland

Life Expectancy

Up to 32 years in captivity

Sexual Maturity

Females reach sexual maturity at about 1 year of age, but males do not mate until their second year. Gestation is 60-63 days

Diet

In the wild, bobcats eat primarily rodents and rabbits, but may also take small mammals, game birds, songbirds, snakes, lizards, and domestic cats. In the Zoo, they are fed feline diet and a varying diet of rats, chicks, fish, hard-boiled eggs, and bones.

Status

Not listed. One subspecies (Felis rufus exsuinapae) from central Mexico is listed as endangered.

Behaviors

It is a solitary, mostly nocturnal animal. Home ranges cover 10-25 square miles. Males are territorial; females are not. Bobcats often rest in trees and palmetto thickets.

Adaptions

Bobcats scent mark by using feces, urine, and anal gland secretions. The bobcat is usually silent but may emit loud screams, hisses, and other sounds during courtship. The black-spotted brown coat of the bobcat blends in well with the background of rocks, brush and other dense vegetation where its main prey, cottontails, feed. Because of the dense cover, sound may be more important than sight in locating prey; hence the ear tufts may help with hearing. Small cats differ from big cats in that the hyoid bone is fully ossified (bony) in small cats, which prevents them from roaring, but does enable them to purr. In addition, most small cat claws retract into sheaths that are longer on the outer side (sheaths are of equal length in big cats).

Special Interests

The name bobcat was derived from the short, stumpy tail or “bobtail” that it has. Bobcats, even kittens, are extremely dangerous when cornered. Bobcats can transmit rabies and feline distemper. The species name rufus means “red” or “ruddy” and refers to the reddish tinge on the bobcat’s coat.

Folklore

The Pawnee story of creation says that Tirawa, the One Above, made the heavens and to the east was man and to the west was woman. To the east was creation planned, and to the west was creation fulfilled. Tirawa gave the evening star four beasts to protect her, black bear, mountain lion, wolf, and bobcat. In the heavens, these were black star, yellow star, white star, and red star. A Shawnee story explains how the bobcat received its spots: Bobcat was chasing Rabbit and had almost caught him when Rabbit jumped into a hollow tree. Rabbit called out to Bobcat. “I’ll stay in here forever; you’ll never eat me!” Bobcat responded, “You’ll have to come out: you’ll get hungry.” Rabbit knew Bobcat was right, so he called out again, “Why don’t you make a big fire so you can roast me as soon as I run out?” Bobcat thought this was a good idea. As soon as the fire was hot enough, Rabbit jumped out of the tree, right into the center of the fire, scattering hot coals all over Bobcat’s coat. Even though Bobcat jumped into the river and didn’t catch fire, his fur was singed dark brown in every place a coal landed, and you can see those spots on his coat today.

Conservation

Many bobcats are hunted for their fur. Presently there are no bounties. Eleven states have complete protection, and the rest allow a regulated harvest during a limited season. Estimated populations in the US are 724,000 to 1,020,000 and the current known harvest levels are not jeopardizing the overall populations. Enormous numbers of cat skins are required to make a fur coat because of the intricate matching procedure required for each garment. When a species becomes too scarce to provide the minimum number of skins demanded, another more common species is then exploited. Thus, species by species, the small spotted cats are hunted to the point where the remaining population is so small and widely distributed that it may never recover.

Jacksonville Zoo History

Our earliest recorded Florida bobcats arrived in 1973, but were probably in the Zoo’s collection as early as 1914 when some “wildcats” were listed on the inventory.

Exhibit

Wild Florida Exhibit Area