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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
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Animal of the Week: Bobcat


Quiet and mysterious, the Bobcat is an animal found in Illinois. Most people either do not know it is found in Illinois or will go their entire life never seeing one. It is the only native wild cat still found in Illinois. The Bobcat is this week's animal of the week.

Though most people have never seen one in the wild, they could probably identify a Bobcat if they ever saw one. The Bobcat gets its name from the short "bobbed" tail. They are about twice the size of a domestic cat and tend to have a much stockier body when compared to the domestic cat. They are cousins to the Lynx and have some similar characteristics. Bobcats have a variety of coloring ranging from yellow-brown to grey, but they all have black spotting throughout their bodies. The underside of the Bobcat is white. Bobcats have long fur along their cheeks with long black lines. These areas are often called a "ruff". The top of the tail has black striping and the tip of the tail is black.

Bobcats can be found in a wide variety of habitats. They can be found everything from deserts to subtropical swamps. Though in Illinois, Bobcats tend to prefer areas with large mature forests that have a thick understory mixed with shrub land and open ground, including farmland. The forested areas provide ample cover and protection, and the shrub land and open areas provide prime hunting areas. Bobcats are primarily solitary animals only coming together for mating. Bobcats can have a large territory range, which they mark with urine, scat, or scent from anal glands. Though some Bobcats may have territory that overlaps with other Bobcats, there will be a core part of the territory that is not shared and will be defended.

Bobcats, like most other animals in the cat family, are exclusively carnivores. Bobcats focus on small mammals. Rabbits, voles, and squirrels are the primary prey species, but Bobcats will also prey on chipmunks, muskrats, and even deer. In the case of larger prey species, it is not uncommon for a Bobcat to cache some of its food hiding it under leaves or snow. If you ever come across a carcass that has been hidden under leaves or snow, it has likely been done by a Bobcat.

Bobcats often only come together for mating purposes, and the mother is the only one that provides care to the young. Bobcats can have one litter per year with one to four kittens per litter. The kittens are weaned at about two months. The kittens will follow their mother for about six months, at which point they begin to hunt for themselves. Kittens stay with their mother for less than a year dispersing before the next litter is born. Bobcats are nocturnal, finding a den in hollow-based trees, caves, beneath ledges, or in hollow logs.

Fun Bobcat Facts:

  1. Though a Bobcat will typically target young or sickly deer, a Bobcat is capable of bringing down a full grown adult deer. They kill the deer by clamping their jaws around the neck of the deer, suffocating it by blocking the airway with their teeth.
  2. Bobcats have five toes on their front foot, though only four are ever seen in their tracks.

Resources:

Field Manual of Illinois Mammals-Joyce E Hofmann.



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