The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 10, 2003


: Bobcat

Name: Bobcat (Lynx rufus rufus in Mass.); up to 11 subspecies.

When & where: Tracks observed at Great Brook Farm State Park December 27, 2002 under mature hemlock; up on a slope bordering wetlands.

Description: A medium-sized wild felid, with males weighing up to 30 pounds and reaching lengths of 49 inches. Exhibits a tawny coat with mottled dark markings, horizontal barring on upper legs. Black, slightly tufted ears, with white "eyespot" marks on back (used to display moods, aggression). Distinct facial ruff and short, stub tail with white underside. Winter pelage may be grayer.

Food: Primary food items are rabbits eastern cottontail and snowshoe hare. Other prey includes smaller rodents, grouse and various bird species, frogs and snakes. Bobcats can take larger animals such as fawns, even bedding adult deer. Prey is taken by stalking and ambush tactics. They commonly wait for hours along rabbit runs to intercept the unlucky passerby! Carrion is also used when available.

Behavior: Breeding peaks in Jan/Feb. One to seven cubs (usually two) born early spring April/May. Females set up a natal den in rock crevices, hollow logs along with a few auxiliary shelters. At five months old the cubs hunt with their mother. After nine months they leave to find their own territory. Male bobcats may maintain territories up to 40 square miles; females' territories can be as small as one. Activity within a suburban landscape is usually restricted to night. Predators are easily avoided, as bobcats are expert climbers, and will readily swim.

Signs: Four-toed prints approximately 2" wide and long; its retractable claws do not register, unlike coyote or domestic dog tracks. Prominent heel pads with double lobes on leading edge. They commonly use an alternating gait that resembles tracks left by a two-legged animal. Paws may directly register in those tracks left by the previous prints. Trail widths are up to 5 3/8", while a domestic cat will top out around 4". Stride lengths to 25". Look for tracks, lays on steep slopes, ledge rock and under coniferous tree canopies. The more secluded and dense the cover, the better. Scat is often segmented and covered in a prepared scrape; forest litter pulled over the deposit.

Bobcats use scent marking on stumps and "scratch posts" low on tree trunks to communicate with other cats. It is possible to track bobcat without snow cover as they will mark the stump directly behind them and set off in the opposite direction. By following this route, one can locate another scent post further down the trail, linking them together. Travel corridors are routinely used, and signs can be found regularly once this is determined. Lucky are those who catch a glimpse of a bobcat in the wild.

Ed. note: Tom Wilson is a resident of Chelmsford. He has displayed nature drawings and paintings in the Gleason library. He is an experienced tracker, is active in several watershed orgaizations and is a property steward for the Cranberry Bog in Chelmsford.

References: National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, 1996-97, Alfred A. Knopf; Tracking & the Art of Seeing, 1999, Paul Rezendes; North American Mammals, 1999, David Jones; Lion Crusher's Domain Information Pages (Internet source).

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito