The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is one of the most common feral feline species in the United States and the only wild cat in Pennsylvania. These felines are carnivorous and help Earth's ecology by dining and preventing the overpopulation of rodents, rabbits and squirrels. The bobcat is a close relative to the Canada lynx and domestic cat species. Bobcats also live in northern Mexico and southern Canada.
Bobcats are among the smaller feline species in the wild, growing up to 3 feet when fully mature. The total length includes their short, stubby 6-inch tail; the bobbed tail is the inspiration for the name “bobcat.” Since they are carnivorous, bobcats have four canine teeth and sharp teeth behind the canines. Bobcats also have sharp claws on their feet, which helps them climb trees and catch prey. The back legs of bobcats are longer than their front legs. A bobcat's fur is usually reddish-orange with black spots.
Mountain ranges, forests and swamps are some of a bobcat's native environments. These felines will also appear in farms near human households when necessary. Bobcats also prefer living near clearcutting areas, or areas of woods chopped down for the timber industry. Whenever a large group of trees are chopped down, many of the bobcat's prey – mice, rabbits and squirrels – go to clear-cutting areas since the clearings provide shelter and more opportunities for finding food. In Pennsylvania, bobcats live in the Appalachian Uplands and Poconos in the state's north central and northeastern counties.
The mating period for bobcats begins in February and March. A bobcat's gestation period is approximately two months. During the mid-spring, bobcats give birth to a group of kittens, also called a “litter.” A litter of bobcats ranges from one to seven kittens. After birth, kittens wean from their mother for approximately 10 weeks and remain with their mother for one year. Male bobcats are mature after two years, while females become adults after one year. However, most females do not breed until they are 2 years old.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Pennsylvanians considered bobcats nuisances, and residents had permission to kill bobcats at will. During that period, the State of Pennsylvania offered a bounty fee for residents who shot bobcats and harvested them for fur and meat. The bounty was lifted in the 1930s, but Pennsylvania did not ban killing bobcats until 1970. From 1970 to 1999, Pennsylvania protected this feline species due to the bobcat's depleted population. Since that time, the bobcat is no longer a species of special concern in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania allows limited bobcat hunting at the date of publication.