Wild Cats in Texas
Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
From time to time, local residents may report sightings of wild animals to the local papers. The ones that seem to hold the most drama are those sightings ofwild cats. Sometimes the person reports what he or she has seen, and perhaps also has taken a hasty, perhaps blurred photo with a phone camera. Or, a homeowner may report a big cat attacking a beloved pet dog or cat right in the owner’s backyard. Of course, the owner’s main concern is to rescue the pet, if possible. Most of these incidents are probably bobcats(lynx rufus), but since these big cats don’t read books in order to see where they “should “ be seen, it is also possible that the cat is a mountain lion(Puma concolor). These two species do not resemble each other, beside the fact that they are both felines. To further complicate matters, North America has another bobcat-like wild cat, the Canadian lynx(Lynx canadensis). As usual, the common names can be confusing, but these animals do not occur in Texas.
In a prior article, I described the mountain lion as being large and slender with a long tail. The coat is light brown but may appear gray or black depending on the light. They range from 6 ½ feet long and from 45 to 90 pounds for females, to as much as 8 ½ feet long and 100 to 150 pounds for males.
Remember that description as we look at the bobcat(lynx rufus). This medium sized, short-tailed cat has reddish-brown or grayish fur. Its upper parts are streaked with black, while the under parts are whitish and spotted with black. The backs of the ears are black-rimmed with white in the center and the ears are tufted. The hair on the sides of the head is long, creating a ruff. The bob tail, which gives the cat its common name, is shorter than the hind foot, with the tip of the tail black above and white below. The weight of adults ranges from 12 to as much as 36 pounds in older adults.
Bobcats prefer rocky outcrops or canyons when available but will resort to thickets of small trees for protection and den sites. They have been successful in adapting to loss of habitat and are now seen in suburban and even urban areas. They are most active at night, but may begin hunting several hours before dark. Like other large mammal predators such as mountain lions and coyotes, they will mark their travel routes with scat or small scrapes of earth and twigs marked with urine. They can and will climb trees if pursued by dogs.
Their diet consists of small mammals and birds. They will eat rats, mice, squirrels and rabbits. They can also prey on sheep, goats and chickens. Neither bobcats nor mountain lions are a threat to humans unless provoked, and will usually never be seen except in extreme circumstances.
The breeding season begins in February, and the gestation period is around 50 days. The female has from 2 to 7 kits. They are well-furred and spotted at birth, and their eyes open at age 9 days. Although they are weaned at 2 months of age, the kits stay with their mother until early fall, at which time they are expected to fend for themselves. The adult male does not help the female in any way, and is not present after mating.
Because both the bobcat and mountain lion are large, they require a large amount of prey to survive. The mountain lion, if present in an area, would need an estimated 100 square miles of territory. The bobcat, being somewhat smaller, would need less space, but it seems obvious that there cannot be very many of either animal in the same area. Coyotes would also compete for food in that same area, so chances are you would not see too many of any one of these creatures in your neighborhood. If you do see any of the three, it is unlikely that you would see them on a regular basis. Using predator-proof fencing, closing poultry in a strong building at night, and using guard donkeys or dogs will help prevent loses of livestock. Small pets such as cats and tiny dogs will be safest in your home, or if outside, in sight of the owner at all times. Still, especially in times of drought, these large predators will become bolder as the natural supply of food dwindles. A large part of Texas has seen this to be true in the past year.