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Bobcat (Lynx rufus) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship

Mating system

  • Polygynous (Provost et al. 1973; Bailey 1974)
  • Males and females require established home ranges to breed successfully (e.g., Bailey 1974; Janečka et al. 2006)

Courtship behavior and copulation

  • Males produce loud calls during mating season (Hall 1981)
  • Examples of courtship behaviors (McCord 1974b)
    • Pursuit of female by male
    • Bumping
    • “Ambushes”
  • Copulation short, but frequent, over one to several days (Mehrer 1975, as cited by Anderson 1987)
  • Male and female in short-term association; separate after mating bouts complete (McCord 1974b; Hall 1981)
    • Male does not guard female or provide care to offspring

Reproduction

Reproduction

  • Sexual maturity
    • Males
      • About 1.5 to 2 years of age (Crowe 1975a; Fritts and Sealander 1978; Winegarner and Winegarner 1982; Larivière and Walton 1997)
        • Successful breeding may depend on ability to hold territory
    • Females (Crowe 1975a; Fritts and Sealander 1978; Larivière and Walton 1997)
      • Physically mature at 1 year of age
      • Begin breeding during 2nd year
  • Reproductive years
    • Both sexes appear to breed until death (Crowe 1975a)

Seasonality

  • Females seasonally polyestrous (e.g., Duke 1949; Crowe 1975a)
    • In heat for 5 to 10 days at a time
    • Usually give birth to one litter per breeding season
      • Sometimes 2 litters, especially if first lost
  • Breeding season
    • May vary with location and climate (Crowe 1975a)
      • Breeding can occur year-round, but generally December to May (Fritts and Sealander 1978; Anderson 1987; Sunquist and Sunquist 2009a)
    • Mating peak in late winter: February to March (Jackson 1961; Anderson 1987; Nowell and Jackson 1996)
    • Birthing peak in early spring: April to June (Crowe 1975a; Anderson 1987; Nowell and Jackson 1996)
      • In southern part of range, may give birth in any month
  • Environmental factors
    • Drought may reduce pregnancy rates (Rolley 1985)

Hybridization

  • Bobcat and Canada lynx known to hybridize (Schwartz et al. 2004; Homyack et al. 2008)

Gestation and Birth

Gestation

  • Gestation period
    • Approximately 60 to 70 days (e.g., Jackson 1961; Hemmer 1976; Hemmer 1980)

Birth

  • Litter size
    • 2 to 3 young, on average (Bailey 1974; Crowe 1975a; Winegarner and Winegarner 1982; Anderson 1987; Sunquist and Sunquist 2009b)
      • Range: majority 1 to 6 young; reportedly up to 8 (Gashwiler et al. 1961)
  • Weight at birth
    • Approximately 280 to 370 g (9.9 to 13 oz) (Banfield 1974)
  • Young born in concealed den (Rollings 1945)
    • Often rocky area or cave (Gashwiler et al. 1961; Jackson 1961; Bailey 1979)
    • Occasionally in a hollow tree stump or log (Gashwiler et al. 1961; Jackson 1961), or human-made structure (Bailey 1979)

Parental Care

Investment

  • Female provides all care to young (Bailey 1974)
  • In some cases, male visits den during winter (Bailey 1979)
    • Not known to provide care

Life Stages

Newborn

  • 1 to 2 weeks old
    • Eyes open (Hemmer 1980)
    • First teeth erupt (Crowe 1975a)
    • Soft coat (Banfield 1974)

Juvenile

  • 2 to 3 months old
    • Young weaned (Jackson 1961; Winegarner and Winegarner 1982)
  • 3 to 5 months old
    • Young travel with mother (Bailey 1979; Winegarner and Winegarner 1982)
    • Stay close to den (Bailey 1979)
  • 6 months old
    • Tooth development complete (Crowe 1975a)

Adult

  • 9 to 12 months old
    • Young reach independence in autumn or early winter; separate from mother (Jackson 1961; Crowe 1975a; Bailey 1979; Winegarner and Winegarner 1982; Nowell and Jackson 1996)
  • 12 to 18 months
    • Disperse (particularly males) to occupy new home range (Johnson et al. 2010; Hughes et al. 2019)

Longevity

In the wild

  • Up to 15 to 20 years, maximum (Jackson 1961; Knick et al. 1985)
    • See summary in Hansen (2007), p. 68
  • Northeastern USA
    • 3 years, on average, where hunting or collisions with motor vehicles common (Rory Carroll, New Hampshire and Vermont furbearer harvest data, 2012-2017)
    • Typically 6 to 7 years in non-harvested populations (Rory Carroll, personal communication, 2020)

In managed care

  • About 23 years, maximum (ZIMS 2020)
  • Exceptional individual records
    • Carter (1955) suggests 25 years
    • Jones (1977) reports 32 years

Mortality and Health

Survival rates

  • Survival highly variable (e.g., Crowe 1975b; Fuller et al. 1985; Rolley 1985; Anderson 1987; Fuller et al. 1995; Nielsen and Woolf 2002)
  • Strongly influenced by hunting pressure (Fuller et al. 1985; Litvaitis et al. 1987) and prey availability (Bailey 1974)
    • Where harvested, higher mortality among males (e.g., Fritts and Sealander 1978; Parker and Smith 1983)
      • Likely due to larger home range size and more extensive daily movements of males
    • Very high survival (> 85%) where receive harvest protection and sufficient habitat/prey available (Nielsen and Woolf 2002; Blankenship et al. 2006)
  • Populations also influenced by survival rates of kittens (Bailey 1974) and non-resident bobcats (Blankenship et al. 2006)

Predators

  • Few non-human predators (Jackson 1961; Hall 1981)
  • Coyote (Young 1958; Moriarty 2007)
  • Mountain lion (puma) (Young 1958)
  • Wolves (Banfield 1974)
  • Burmese python (Everglades, Florida) (Dorcas et al. 2012)
  • Domestic dogs (Jennings 2017)
  • Bobcat young preyed on by Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), foxes, and male bobcat (Young 1958; Jackson 1961; Crowe 1975b)

Pollution

  • Metal (e.g., mercury, copper, silver) and chemical (e.g., from flame retardants) contaminants shown to bioaccumulate in bobcat tissues (e.g., liver) (Cumbie 1975; Boyles et al. 2017)
    • Potential for indirect negative health effects (Thomason et al. 2016)
      • Contaminants can become toxic above a certain threshold level or increase susceptibility to infectious diseases (e.g., Riley et al. 2003; Nriagu and Skaar 2015)

Accidental death

  • Killed by motor vehicles and trains (Nielsen and Woolf 2002; Blankenship et al. 2006; Riley et al. 2006; Young, Golla, Broman, et al. 2019)
    • Vehicle collisions are a significant cause of death in some locations (Blankenship et al. 2006; Bencin et al. 2019)
  • Electrocution
    • Bailey (1974) reports deaths of young bobcats from climbing powerline poles

Diseases (non-comprehensive list)

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (Lee et al. 2012)
  • Mange (Pence et al. 1982; Riley et al. 2007; Serieys et al. 2013; Serieys et al. 2015)
    • More prevalent in individuals experiencing chronic disease, poor nutrition/dehydration, or exposed to toxic chemicals (e.g., those used for rodent population control)
  • Canine-distemper (Daoust et al. 2009)
  • Rabies (Young 1958)

Parasites (non-comprehensive list)

  • Intestinal worms (Rollings 1945; Hall 1981; Camacho-Macías et al. 2018)
    • High prevalence of roundworms where in contact with humans, and domestic or feral animals (Camacho-Macías et al. 2018)
  • Protozoans (Harrison 2010)
    • E.g., Toxoplasma gondii (causes toxoplasmosis)
  • Mites (Pence et al. 1982)
  • Fleas (Young 1958; Stone and Pence 1977)
  • Ticks (Stone and Pence 1977; Wehinger et al. 1995)

Young Climber

Bobcat kitten facing camera

Bobcat kittens are usually born in a rocky area, cave, or hollow log.

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

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