Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are elusive, solitary, and mostly nocturnal animals found in North America, from southern Canada to southern Mexico. Within the wide range of habitats throughout their range, bobcats are well adapted to forests, swamps, deserts, and even suburban habitats. Although humans rarely detect them, TMCC’s Dr. Meeghan Gray is discovering through her research over the past two years that this is not the case for bobcats in northwest Reno. Using camera traps and a recently radio-collared female bobcat, Dr. Gray is collecting data to answer basic questions about suburban bobcats that remain unknown. In fact, Dr. Gray’s research includes the first bobcat with a GPS collar in Nevada. As she continues to collar more bobcats, Dr. Gray hopes to better understand how bobcats use the suburban environment.
This recently caught the attention of homeowners who also captured images of the collared bobcat using the suburban landscape and posted them on social media sites, including NextDoor and Facebook.
Difference Between Bobcats, Lynx
Often confused with the lynx, bobcats are very different. While they both share facial and ear tufts (thought to improve their hearing), the lynx has shorter black tufts on its ears. Bobcat ears are marked with two white dots that kittens probably use to follow their mother into dimly lit dens. In size, bobcats are slightly smaller and have limbs of equal length, which is an artifact of the different environments they are uniquely adapted to; the lynx relies on longer hindlimbs to navigate through snow, while the bobcat lives in warmer climates at lower latitudes.
Unlike the lynx which only has black fur on the tip of its tail, bobcats have black and white fur on the tip of their tail. The latter is believed to help kittens that fall too far behind, as the mother stops and gently calls the kitten to her as she lifts her tail to reveal the white fur beneath it. And speaking of tails, bobcats get their name from this appendage that has a severed or “wagged” appearance. However, bobcats are only found in northern Nevada.
Bobcats are about twice the size of the average domestic cat, weighing 4 to 15 kg (9 to 33 lb). Most bobcats are brown or reddish brown in color with brown and black spots or stripes, and a lighter colored belly. Its fur blends in well with rocks, brush, and other dense vegetation where it hunts its main prey.
Should I worry about my pets?
Bobcats eat a variety of animal species, including mice, rats, squirrels, and rabbits, but they also eat birds, lizards, rodents, snakes, and carrion. And this is where the color of their fur comes into play, as it provides them with camouflage in the environments where they stalk their prey. Dr. Gray is often asked about the likelihood of bobcats preying on house cats, small dogs, or other pets left unattended in backyards. The answer: highly unlikely. While suburban bobcats do occasionally prey on chickens, Dr. Gray’s preliminary research shows that they primarily consume small prey such as rodents and rabbits. A bobcat living 5-15 years makes them excellent species for controlling rodent, rabbit, and bird populations. Like our house cats, bobcats hunt stealthily, stalking and pouncing on their prey with long leaps that can reach 10 feet. Usually, it is other predatory wildlife, such as coyotes and mountain lions, that jump fences and prey on domestic animals.
North American populations are thought to be quite large, with perhaps as many as 1 million bobcats in the United States alone. The Nevada Department of Wildlife in 2015 estimated 27,000 bobcats in Nevada. And Dr. Gray’s estimates for local population size are difficult to determine, given that bobcats in general (but especially suburban bobcats) are poorly understood. Monitoring the spatial ecology and population densities of carnivores is critical to effectively manage and conserve such populations and their ecosystems, especially at the interface of suburban landscapes.
How to Help Investigators Track Suburban Wildcats
The lack of scientific knowledge underlies the importance and uniqueness of Dr. Gray’s research, where she and her undergraduate research students at TMCC attempt to establish baseline data that will help answer these questions. And, for those in biology, engaging in such research is rare for undergraduates.
Over the past two years, Dr. Gray’s research has challenged the long-held belief that bobcats are obligate nocturnal hunters and that bobcats are successfully adapting to suburban landscapes, including using this habitat as hunting territory. hunt. Dr. Gray plans to continue this research for several years to answer these questions about health, activity, and diet in these suburban bobcats.
The Mohave and Zuni tribes believed that the bobcat had medicine for hunting. Zuni hunters kept stone effigies of wildcats, and to the Pawnee tribe, the wildcat is a mythologically important character associated with the stars.
Pawnee parents used to wrap their babies in bobcat skins to bring them heavenly blessings. The bobcat is also used as a clan animal in some Native American cultures such as the Creek and Chickasaw.
Interestingly, for other tribes they play a more negative role and are mentioned in traditional stories as greedy, selfish and indifferent to social rules. A man who has a bad temper or acts like a jerk around women is called a “bobcat” in the Hopi language.
Local homeowners serving as citizens of science by sharing their bobcat observations, as well as the knowledge of highly experienced and knowledgeable hunters, are contributing to this research. Dr. Gray’s research lab just launched a website for people to report sightings of bobcats in the Reno area, either from their security camera or while hiking. Serving as citizen scientists, his observations are important in helping us understand bobcats in our area.
For more information on the bobcat project and to report a sighting, visit https://sites.google.com/tmcc.edu/meeghan-gray.
Dr. Cecilia Vigil, DVM, and Dr. Megan Lahti, Ph.D., are biology instructors at Truckee Meadows Community College.