By Cheryl Conley
Because I live in the suburbs just north of Houston, I feel fortunate to be able to observe many native species of wildlife. One of my favorites is the bobcat. I’ve only seen one and it took me a minute to realize exactly what was running across my backyard. When I finally realized what it was, he was long gone. Bobcats are elusive and nocturnal so I was lucky to see one.
Bobcats are North America’s most common wildcat. There are actually two subspecies of bobcats in Texas. The desert bobcat is found in the west and northwest part of Texas and the Texas bobcat is found in the rest of the state. They’re almost identical and the general public would never be able to tell the difference. Both are about twice the size of a house cat and measure twenty-five to thirty inches long and stand fifteen to twenty inches tall at the shoulder. Females generally weigh around twenty pounds and males weigh about twenty-six pounds.
Bobcats are named for their short stubby tails and are part of the lynx family. They have black stripes on their forelegs, back legs and on their “bobbed” tails. They are solitary animals and territorial although some male territories will overlap. Female territories are exclusive. Breeding season in Texas begins in February and this is the only time males and females are together. Litters range from two to seven but two is the most common. The babies are walking at about a month old and they are weaned at about two months old. They stay with Mom until fall and then they’re on their own.
Bobcats have excellent eyesight. In bright sunlight, the pupils close and become thin vertical slits which keeps out the light. At night, the pupils open wide which allows the maximum amount of light to enter. The eyes are protected vertically with an eyelid and horizontally with a covering called a nictitating membrane. It is connected to the corner of the eye and sits below the eyelid. It moves from side to side.
Bobcats are carnivores and prefer to eat rodents and rabbits but have been known to eat mice, squirrels and even deer.
If you’ve ever seen a domestic cat before it “attacks” a toy, you’ve seen it stop, crouch down and remain perfectly still. Sometimes it will creep slowly towards the target and then pounce. Bobcats do the same. Bobcats are so quiet they often catch their prey off guard and can jump up to ten feet.
In the wild, bobcats live about seven to twelve years but in captivity they live between twenty and twenty-five years.
When seen in the wild, bobcats are sometimes mistaken for domestic cats. As a matter of fact, when working at a wildlife center, we had someone bring us a bobcat thinking it was an orphaned domestic cat. Thankfully, we were able to take care of the baby until it could be released back to the wild.