The Five Wildcats of North America
Learn more about the wildcats of North America.
North America is home to four species of wildcats. The Bobcat, Lynx, Ocelot and the Puma or Cougar are considered native to North America. With more and more of their natural habitat disappearing, wildcats, as well as many other types of wildlife, are coming in closer contact with man. Learn more about the wildcats of North America.
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
The Bobcat is the most commonly known wildcat in North America. He is also the only species of wildcat that is not currently on the endangered list. The Bobcat and the Canadian Lynx are sometimes though of as the same animal. They are both of the same family but different species. The Bobcat is about twice the size of the average house cat. They have long legs, large paws and tufted ears. They get their name from the short, black-tipped tail which appears to be “bobbed” or cut off. The “tufts” of their ears are actually used like hearing aids and they have excellent eyesight.
With 12 subspecies, the bobcat ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico. At one time the Bobcat’s territory was wide spread over the US, however, their number have decreased over the years. Bobcats are nocturnal animals and are rarely seen by humans. They inhabit woodlands, forest areas, swamp lands as well as some semi-arid areas. The Bobcats diet consists of rabbits, mice, squirrels, reptiles and fowl, including the farmer’s chickens. They are many times regarded as a nuisance and are shot by farmers. Many hunters will also kill a Bobcat as they eat the quail, pheasant and chukkar that many hunters shoot for sport.
Bobcat in Arizona
Lynx (Felis lynx)
The lynx is actually the bobcats “cold weather” cousin. They are actually several species of lynx. The Asian and European lynx are larger that the North American species, the Canada lynx. The Canada lynx are generally found in Canada and the colder parts of the US. They inhabit mainly forest and tundra regions.
The Canada lynx is about the same size as the bobcat and has tufted ears and a bobbed tail as well. The tail of the lynx however, is tipped in black. The lynx has more hair than the bobcat especially around the face and feet to keep them warmer in the colder climate. Their feet are used as “snow shoes” and are larger and have more hair for added insulation from the cold and snow.
The Canada lynx diet consists mainly of snowshoe hares. There is a correlation between the number of snowshoe hares and the population of lynx. As the number of snowshoe hares decline, so do the number of lynx. The larger Eurasian lynx will hunt deer as well as smaller animals.
Canada Lynx in the Snow
Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)
The ocelot is sometimes called the “Painted Leopard” or "Dwarf Leopard". At one time they could be found throughout the southwestern parts of the US. However due to their beautifully spotted fur, they have been illegally hunted to the point that their numbers have been greatly reduced and has placed them on the endangered list. Occasionally you will see the ocelot in Arizona or extreme southern parts of Texas. They are most commonly seen in Mexico and northern parts of South America. They are primarily nocturnal, solitary animals.
The ocelot has short tawny or reddish brown fur with black spots and rosette shaped markings. Their face has two black stripes down each side and their tail has black bands. They weight between 18 to 40 pounds and are 27 to 39 inches in length not including their tail which is between 10 to 18 inches in length. They can be found in the trees, stalking monkeys and birds. They also eat small mammals and rodents, frogs, fish and some reptiles. Unlike most other cats, they don’t mind the water and can swim very well.
Mountain Lion (Felis concolor)
The mountain lion goes by several names. He is also knows as puma, cougar, catamount, and panther. The mountain lion is a powerful and feared predator. Mountain lions are beautiful animals with a tawny colored coat with no markings. Mountain lions weigh approximately 120-140 pounds, although they are large with many characteristics of the "big cats", they are considered to be the largest of the "small cat" family.
Mountain lions prefer to prey on deer but will also attack and eat coyotes and other mammals such as raccoons and porcupines. The cougars population was nearly extirpated in most of its eastern North American range, except for Florida where there is a subspecies referred to as the Florida panther, although there have been sightings in Georgia, as well as North and South Carolina. The cougar ranges across most western American states, as well as some parts of Canada. There are small populations returning the states such as Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas as well.
Mountain lions have been known to attack humans. However, statistics show that on average there are only 4 attacks and 1 death each year in all of the US and Canada. Mountain lions will be more likely to attack a person who is alone or a small child.
Jaguar - Panthera onca
The jaguar is the largest wild cat in the Americas and have almost been completely eliminated in the United States. There are sightings along the border of Arizona and Mexico, with a group of 80-120 being found in remote areas of the Sonora Mountains. It is estimated that approximately 15,000 jaguars remain in the wild with the greatest populations in Mexico and South America.
The name "jaguar" is derived from the Native American word yaguar, which means “he who kills with one leap.” The jaguar has extremely powerful jaws and is known to pierce the skull of its prey, biting directly into the brain.
The jaguar resembles a leopard but is usually larger and more sturdy. They have a broad head and shorter lets than the leopard. Their coat is usually yellow or tan but can vary from brown to black as well. Their spots are more solid on their head and neck, becoming rosette type patterns along their sides and back.
Adult males are from 25 to 30 inches height at the shoulders and 43-75 inches in length, with the females being a bit smaller. Jaguars normally weigh between 79 - 211 pounds but some adult males have weighed in as much as 350 pounds.
The jaguar is a solitary wild cat and normally lives and hunts alone. Their territory can range from between 19 to about 55 miles. Jaguars normally hunt on the ground, but will also climb trees and pounce on their prey from above.
Jaguars prey includes deer, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys, sloths, tapirs, turtles, eggs and frogs. They also enjoy the water and will catch and eat fish.
Jaguar Stalking and Attacking Caiman
Few people will actually come in contact with any of these wildcats in their natural habitat, but at least now you know a little more about these wonderful wildcats of North America.
Questions & Answers
What species of cat is it that lives in the swamps of southern Louisiana? Its coat is darker and it’s stockier than the pictures I found of the Florida panther.
The only wildcats that are known to be in southern Louisiana are the cougar and the bobcat.
© 2012 Sheila Brown