Florida is home to two predatory big cats: the wild bobcat and the panther. The bobcat, sometimes called the Florida lynx or wildcat, is the smaller of the two, and you're much more likely to spot it in the wild – or even in your backyard. In fact, the bobcat is the most abundant wildcat in the U.S. and has the greatest range of all wildcats native to North America.
Florida Bobcat Appearance
The Florida wild bobcat (Felinae rufus or Lynx rufus) is about twice the size of a domestic cat and has long legs, large paws and a short tail – it is its "bobbed" tail that gave it the name "bobcat" – that may be only 1 to 7 inches long.
A male bobcat weighs 20 to 30 pounds, and a female weighs between 15 and 25 pounds.
The bobcat has tufted, triangular-shaped ears, tufts around its face and a spotted coat. Its coat ranges in color from gray to reddish-brown, and its spots may be brown or black. The bobcat's belly and the backs of its ears are white with black spots. Young bobcats have more distinctive mottled or spotted marking on their faces than adults. A bobcat often appears completely black when it is wet, but only the tip of the tail is actually black.
The bobcat has retractable claws, like house cats. Because a bobcat is around the size of a medium-sized dog, its track markings help distinguish it. The bobcat is an extremely efficient mover, putting its back feet in the same place their front feet stepped, to avoid disrupting its surroundings any more than it has to.
The bobcat has sharp teeth designed to acquire and eat prey, like all carnivores.
Florida Bobcat Habitat
The Florida bobcat can be found all over the state, from swamps and forests to suburban backyards. It is a solitary animal with a tendency to mark its territory with urine and feces, and by scratching trees along the boundary of its home. A female bobcat's territory can can cover up to 6 square miles of both wild and developed areas, while a male bobcat's territory can cover up to 30 square miles. Females and males only come together during breeding season, living separately at other times. Female territories are completely exclusive, but male territories may overlap that of many females and even those of other males.
When building a den, the bobcat favors hollow logs, tree hollows, caves, rock outcroppings and openings in the ground. It can live close to people and doesn't pose any great threat – it's too small to hunt or eat people and rarely preys on game or domestic creatures – but it is not suitable to keep as a pet. It may have more than one home, building several "backup" dens.
Florida Bobcat Behavior
A bobcat normally breeds from August to March, when food is most plentiful, with a peak in February and March. However, a female aged one year or older can give birth in any month of the year. The normal gestation period is 50 to 60 days, before a litter of one to four kittens is born. A male bobcat may sire several litters at one time.
A bobcat kitten weighs 9.75 to 12 ounces at birth, opens its eyes after about six days and is weaned between three to four months of age. When the young bobcats are about five months old, their mother will teach them how to hunt for food. When they reach eight to 11 months old, they will be completely abandoned by their mother and left to fend for themselves.
A female bobcat reaches sexual maturity at around 12 months, but a male bobcat doesn't reach sexual maturity until it is 24 months old.
The bobcat is a competent, typically nocturnal hunter. However, it's not unusual to spot a Florida bobcat during the day because it sleeps for only two to three hours at a time and may hunt in daylight if necessary. It can kill prey much bigger than itself, but mainly preys on rats, rabbits, raccoons, opossums and squirrels, and occasionally domestic chickens or feral cats. During winter months, it also feeds on robins, towhees, catbirds and other ground-dwelling, migrating birds that are passing through Florida to head south.
The bobcat has excellent eyesight and hearing and can swim and climb trees, which helps protect them from other animal enemies. In the wild, it can live for up to 14 years and can coexist with the panther because they do not target the same prey.
Florida Bobcat on Your Property
The Florida bobcat isn't a major pest, but sometimes it digs holes in yards and around properties. If a bobcat is interfering with your property, a wire fence over 6 feet tall will help keep it out. If you have small domestic animals, keep them secure after dark. A bright exterior light may also discourage a bobcat but could attracts other pests, such as insects and frogs. If you can't get rid of bobcats from your property, seek the assistance of an authorized nuisance wildlife trapper.
Florida Bobcat Status
At one time, bobcats were found all over North America, from northern Mexico to southern Canada. Bobcat populations began to decline in many Midwestern and eastern states in the early to mid 1900s, due to the value of its fur. In the 1970s, international laws came into force to protect the world's spotted cats, which helped revive populations. It's estimated that around 725,000 to 1,020,000 bobcats remain in the wild.
The bobcat is abundant in Florida, so it is not listed as endangered or threatened, but it is classified as a fur-bearing game animal by the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, meaning it can only be hunted during certain months of the year.
Bobcats vs. Panthers
Unlike the bobcat, the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), a subspecies of puma, is protected under the Endangered Species Act. It is extremely rare to spot a panther in the wild in Florida, as fewer than 200 of them exist across the state with the majority living in south Florida.
Another difference between the bobcat and the panther is that the panther is much larger – up to four times larger than the bobcat. An adult male panther weighs about 130 pounds and an adult female panther weighs about 80 pounds. A panther also has a much longer tail than a bobcat.
One of the quickest ways to identify a wild cat is by looking at the tracks they leave on the ground. An adult panther's front paws leave tracks 3 inches long by 3 inches wide, and its rear paw tracks are slightly smaller. Both adult and young panthers leave larger tracks than bobcats – they are actually more similar to the tracks of coyotes and dogs.
Panthers are usually yellowish tan in color, with white under the chin and black on the back of the ears.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Q and A
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Bobcat: Lynx Rufus
- Big Cat Rescue: Bobcat Facts
- Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge: Bobcat
- University of Florida: Florida's Wild Cats
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Did I See a Panther?
About the Author
Claire is a writer and editor with 18 years' experience. She writes about science and health for a range of digital publications, including Reader's Digest, HealthCentral, Vice and Zocdoc.