Monday, December 1, 2008

Bobcat - Felis rufus

Once when I was pet sitting for a sweet dog of friends, I heard a deep growl from the dark as I left the house. Needless to say I ran for the car and locked myself inside! I am sure it was a bobcat. I had seen a few at night while driving through my neighborhood.

Bobcats occur frequently in the southern half of North America but are rarely found in the Midwestern states. They are common in the mountains of the Carolinas and the coastal plain as far north as the Great Dismal Swamp. Larger populations occur in the mountains and coastal plain than in the Piedmont region.

Bobcats are somewhat larger than domestic cats, ranging from 24 to almost 40 inches in length, including the tail. They weigh between 16 and 24 pounds, depending on their sex, with males typically being -heavier than females. Their mottled coloration varies from grayish to reddish brown with small darker spots and blotches. The tail is short and tipped with black on the upper surface. Long hairs on their faces resemble 'sideburns' and their ears are usually dark with a white patch near the tip.

Bobcats are solitary hunters that prey mostly on small mammals such as rabbits and rodents, although they will also eat birds and even large animals like the white-tail deer. Bobcats have binocular vision which enables them to focus on swiftly running prey. Their pupils expand to take in all available light, making them extremely effective night hunters. Sharp claws that assist in climbing are retractable, allowing the bobcat to approach their prey more quietly. They can stalk to within a few feet of their intended prey and then make a short dash or pounce. Bobcats have compact skulls (fewer teeth and shortened jaws) coupled with long canine teeth. This provides them with tremendous biting pressure that can kill their prey in one bite. Bobcats begin breeding at 1 year of age, usually in late winter or early spring. Two to four kittens are born after a gestation period of about 62 days. The young are furred but blind at birth. In about ten days their eyes will open and at four weeks they begin to explore the area around the den. They are weaned in about 7 to 8 weeks. Bobcats occupy a variety of habitats where there are dense thickets, including coastal swamps and upland forests. Although they are often undetected, bobcats can live close to humans as long as there is suitable habitat. They make their dens in hollow trees, small caves, and underneath rock ledges and outcroppings.

Bobcats were once found throughout the United States but today's range is more limited. A major mortality factor appears to be the available food supply, although parasites and diseases can also affect the population. It is legal to hunt and trap bobcats in North Carolina during set seasons. The price for bobcat pelts has recently risen and some wildlife biologists feel that increased trapping pressure could possibly threaten bobcat populations in some areas.

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