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Bobcat (Lynx rufus) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Males Females
Weight average: 9 kg (20 lb);
range: 6.4 to 18 kg (14 to 40 lb)
average: 5.8 to 9.2 kg (13 to 20 lb);
range: 4.1 to 15 kg (9.0 to 33 lb)
Total Length 475 to 1252 mm (18.7 to 49.3 in) 610 to 1092 mm (24.0 to 43.0 in)
Tail Length 108 to 201 mm (4.25 to 7.91 in) 90 to 171 mm (3.5 to 6.73 in)

 

Data sources:
Total length, tail length: McCord and Cardoza (1982). Weight: Banfield (1974), Sunquist and Sunquist (2009b).

General Appearance

Body

  • Size
    • Medium-sized cat (Nowell and Jackson 1996)
      • About twice the size of a domestic cat (Jackson 1961)
  • Fur
    • Very soft (Larivière and Walton 1997)
    • Thicker in colder climates (Hall 1981)
    • Molt occurs in spring and autumn (Pocock 1917)
  • Coloration
    • Upper parts light gray to yellowish brown to reddish brown (Banfield 1974; McCord and Cardoza 1982)
      • May have stripe along spine (Jackson 1961)
      • May have dark spots/blotches/streaks on sides, chest, and back, or only on underside (Jackson 1961; Nowell and Jackson 1996)
      • Guard hair tips black (Banfield 1974)
    • Under parts white with black spots (Larivière and Walton 1997)
    • Adult coloration may change with season and age (Rollings 1945)
      • Tend to be more reddish during summer, grayish during winter (Jackson 1961)
    • Newborn coat tawny olive (Banfield 1974)
      • Mottled or spotted (McCord and Cardoza 1982)

Head

  • Head
    • Proportionately small (Jennings 2017)
    • Ruff of fur along sides of face (Nowell and Jackson 1996)
  • Skull and jaws
    • Large muscles attach to skull ridges and crests (Kelson 1946; Larivière and Walton 1997, except as noted)
      • Particularly well developed in adult males
    • Jaws strong (Kelson 1946; Larivière and Walton 1997)
  • Ears
    • Round at tip (Pocock 1917)
    • Typically, with small pointed tufts (Pocock 1917; Rollings 1945)
      • Tufts less than 1 inch in length
      • Not present when coat shed (molt)
    • Backs black with central white spot (Banfield 1974)
  • Eyes (Jackson 1961)
    • Prominent
    • Pupils elliptical

Limbs and feet

  • Legs
    • Long (Jennings 2017)
    • Inner forelegs have horizontal stripes (McCord and Cardoza 1982)
  • Feet
    • Front feet larger than hind feet (Pocock 1917; Larivière and Walton 1997)
    • Toes joined by webbing (Pocock 1917)
  • Claws
    • Sharp and retractable (McCord and Cardoza 1982)

Tail

  • Length
    • About 1/4 of total length (Jackson 1961)
  • Markings
    • Black bars and black tip, above (Jackson 1961)
    • White underneath (Jackson 1961)

Sexual Dimorphism

Body size

  • Males larger than females (Jackson 1961)
    • About 10% longer (Jackson 1961)
    • 25 to 50% heavier (Jackson 1961; Anderson 1987)
  • Influenced by region, topography, mating system, and possibly food competition (Anderson 1987; Sikes and Kennedy 1992; Dobson and Wigginton 1996)

Identification

May be confused for Canada lynx

  • Habitat use comparison (e.g., Peers et al. 2013)
    • Bobcat and lynx tend to use different habitats
    • Use different habitat areas, where live in same region (sympatric)
  • Physical characteristics comparison
    • Bobcat smaller than lynx, on average (Hall 1981; Larivière and Walton 1997)
    • Bobcat has shorter hind legs, smaller feet, and shorter ear tufts (Rollings 1945)
    • Bobcat has black only on top of tail; lynx has black all around tail tip (Rollings 1945)

Bobcat

Bobcat standing near granite rock

Bobcats often have small ear tuffs and a ruff of fur along the sides of their face.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Compare These Cats

Two photos comparing lynx and bobcat

Illustrations from a 1918 National Geographic Society book contrasting the physical characteristics of a Canada lynx (top) and a bobcat (bottom).

"Canada Lynx/Bobcat (Bay Lynx)"; p. 411 in Edward W. Nelson's Wild Animals of North America (1918).

Image credit: Made available by Biodiversity Heritage Library (contributed to BHL by American Museum of Natural History Library). Public domain.

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