Bobcat

Natural History

A southern cousin of the lynx, the bobcat (Lynx rufus rufus) is the only “wildcat” in Virginia. Native to most counties in Virginia, the bobcat is a medium-sized cat characterized by dark spots, tufted ears and a short “bobbed” tail. Its color varies from tawny brown in summer to grayish in winter. Preferring forested and mountainous terrains, bobcats may also be found in rural areas. They are very shy and avoid areas with high human populations.

These solitary creatures emerge from their daytime resting place, usually a rock cleft or thicket, to hunt at night. Sometimes bobcats will rest on a boulder or a low tree branch, its mottled fur providing excellent camouflage. When raising its young, the bobcat uses a permanent den, but during the rest of the year it uses a “resting shelter” once a day or every few days. Possible resting shelters include thickets, fallen trees, a hollow snag or hollow logs.

The dens used to raise kittens (usually from April or May until fall) are most often located under logs concealed by vines, in hollows of decomposing windfalls, in root depressions from uprooted trees or in small rocky caves. Young bobcats will remain with their mother for up to a year, but may begin hunting on their own at about six months. Humans and dogs are the most important predators of bobcats, with hunting and trapping accounting for over 90% of bobcat deaths. Mountain lions may occasionally prey on bobcats, and coyotes have been observed to tree them.

Maymont’s bobcat arrived here in 2008. Originally thought to be a house cat, he was found as a kitten and imprinted on humans before they realized he was a bobcat. Bobcats can imprint very quickly, and once imprinted on a human they are very unlikely to survive in the wild. The bobcat in this exhibit was brought to Maymont from the Virginia Wildlife Center and was deemed unable to survive without assistance.

Fun Facts

  • The bobcat is the most common wildcat in North America.
  • It gets its name from the stubby, or “bobbed,” tail.
  • Bobcats are mostly solitary animals and both sexes will only come together for mating.
  • The various calls of the bobcat sound much like those of the domestic cat, although its scream is piercing and sounds similar to a human baby.
  • In the wild, bobcats can live 10 to 14 years.

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