Spinning tales about bobcats

Charlotte's Web-Spinning Tales


Bobcats are prevalent in Florida and sometimes wander through backyards due to declining habitat. <i>Photo by Charlie Corbeil </i>

Bobcats allegedly evolved from the Eurasian lynxes which crossed the Bering Land Bridge to North America around 2.6 million years ago. They are prevalent in Florida.

The name is derived from its bobbed tail of around 5 to 6 inches, although a few reach 18 inches. Coats are variations of tan, brown or gray with spots and stripes to enhance camouflage. Florida also claims rare melanistic — black — bobcats; subtle spots may adorn the black fur.

Regularly, bobcats are mistaken for the shy, elusive, mostly spotless, golden-brown Florida panthers. However, long, large tails distinguish panthers. Moreover, males may weigh up to 150 pounds compared to 40 pounds for male bobcats. These sizable panthers prey on bobcats. Still, panthers in the first year of life also have spots and are close enough in weight to be confused with big bobcats.

Bobcat habitats include forests, mountains, semi-deserts, hammock lands and swamps. These animals are territorial and largely solitary. Their ranges vary significantly, but areas of 5 to 6 square miles are common. Overlapping occurs. Because of land development, relocation to fragmented urban edges may shrink ranges to 1 to 2 square miles. Such patchy habitats hinder roaming which decreases genetic diversity.

Each cat maintains one main den (natal den), frequently a cave or rock shelter. Several auxiliary shelters are also utilized. In Florida, saw palmetto patches and dense thickets provide choice dens. Claw marks and scents define territories.

Established home ranges are believed crucial for reproduction. Gestation is around 60 days, typically producing two or three kittens yearly. Second litters are possible. Females are sole caregivers. Kittens may become independent around 8 months. Lifespan seldom exceeds 10 years.

Carnivorous and opportunistic, bobcats are cunning stalkers. They prey by chasing, pouncing, climbing and swimming. Their sharp claws and needle-like teeth are lethal. Fortunately, they rarely attack humans, but pets are vulnerable. In Florida, food may include rabbits, abundant migrating birds, feral cats, small deer and livestock. Moreover, adult males consume other bobcat kittens when prey is scarce. 

Yet, huge dogs do chase bobcats up trees. Also in pursuit are humans — Florida has a bobcat hunting season.

These wild cats are nocturnal but also wander at dusk, dawn and daytime since they sleep only two to three hours at a time. Due to declining space, they sometimes saunter through front or backyards. Unsecured garbage cans are attractions. A bobcat has likely visited your yard if you discover clawless — due to retractable claws — four-toed tracks with direct register — hind prints on top of fore prints.

If you behold one of these graceful creatures, discreetly relish its elegance. 

Bobcats: Nocturnal

Hunting, lurking, beautiful

Neighborhood creatures!

— Haiku by Hailey Scalia, 8-year-old conservationist