The Difference Between Bobcat & Coyote Tracks

By John Lindell; Updated April 25, 2017
The bobcat is stealthy and tries to blend into its background.

The bobcat (Lynxus rufus) and the coyote (Canis latrans) are two predators that share a similar range. The coyote exists throughout all of the United States, southern Canada and into Alaska, while the bobcat inhabits much of the same territory with the notable exception of the upper Midwest. The tracks of these two mammals have some differences as well as similarities.

Similarities

The tracks of the coyote and bobcat are similar in some regards. Both tracks will feature four toes, as both canines and felines have four toes on each front foot and each hind foot. Both tracks will display a heel pad. Both tracks are likely to appear in many of the same settings, such as along dusty dirt roads in wooded areas and in the soft silt and mud of the banks of rivers, streams and ponds.

Size

The size of the coyote’s track will be larger than that of the bobcat. This is because the average coyote, according to the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals,” is in the range of from 20 to 40 lbs. in weight, while the typical bobcat weighs from 14 to 29 lbs. The coyote’s track is about 2 1/2 inches long; the track of a bobcat is around 1 1/2 inches in length. The width of the coyote’s track is approximately 1 1/2 inches, slightly wider than the bobcat’s, which usually measures in the range of 1 3/8 inches.

Claw Marks

Coyotes cannot retract their claws and often leave small claw marks in their tracks.

While the tracks of a coyote and of a bobcat will feature four toes, the key difference is that the bobcat’s track will not show any claw marks. Like the vast majority of cats, the bobcat walks and runs with its claws retracted, leaving no sign of them in snow, dirt or mud. The coyote cannot retract its claws and in many instances, a slight imprint left by the claw is visible on some, if not all, at the ends of the tracks left by the toes.

Heel Pads

The heel pad’s shape is another way to discern the track left behind by a bobcat from that of the coyote. The coyote, like all canines, has a heel pad with just one lobe in the front and two lobes in the rear. This imprint in the snow can remind you of the outline of a Volkswagen Beetle. The bobcat has two lobes on the heel pad’s front portion and three lobes on the rear; this outline is much like that of a puffy letter M.

Considerations

The bobcat’s hind foot often makes a track very close to or even in the front foot’s track, as the animal walks stealthily through the landscape, trying to stay quiet and concealed from potential prey. The hind print of the coyote is normally smaller than the imprints of the front feet. The coyote’s inner two toes on each track will be just a bit smaller than the outer two toes, notes the Bear Trackers Animal Tracks website.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.