Bobcat

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With a gray to brown coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the Bobcat resembles their feline cousin, the lynx. Named for their 'bobbed' tail, they are a North American mammal that is about twice as large as the domestic cat. Interestingly, the cat is larger in its northern range and in open habitats. With twelve recognized subspecies, it ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico, including most of the continental United States.

The Bobcat is an exceptionally adaptable animal. The population of the Bobcat depends primarily on the population of its prey; other principal factors in the selection of habitat type include protection from severe weather, availability of resting and den sites, dense cover for hunting and escape, and freedom from disturbance. As fierce hunters, bobcats can kill prey much bigger than themselves, but usually eat rabbits, birds, mice, squirrels, and other smaller game. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Research has shown that diet diversification positively correlates to a decline in numbers of the Bobcat's principal prey. Stealthy hunters, they stalk their prey, then pounce and (if successful) kill with a bite to the vertebrae of the neck. (They occasionally eat small domesticated animals and poultry.)

It persists in much of its original range and populations are healthy. They are elusive and nocturnal, so they are rarely spotted by humans. Although they are seldom seen, they roam throughout much of North America and adapt well to such diverse habitats as forests, swamps, deserts, and even suburban areas. In fact, the animal may appear in backyards in "urban edge" environments, where human development intersects with natural habitats. If chased by a dog it will usually climb up a tree (or, as you can see, a nearby telephone pole).

Bobcat activities are confined to well-defined territories, which vary in size depending on sex and the distribution of prey. The home range is marked with feces, urine scent, and by clawing prominent trees in the area. In its territory the Bobcat will have numerous places of shelter: usually a main den, and several auxiliary shelters on the outer extent of its range, such as hollow logs, brush piles, thickets, or under rock ledges.

They are solitary animals and their mating system is similar to that of domestic cats. Males and females only associate for the brief time required for courtship and copulation, and both males and females may have multiple partners. One to six, but usually two to four, kittens are born in April or May, after roughly 60 to 70 days of gestation. There may sometimes be a second litter, with births as late as September. The female generally gives birth in some sort of enclosed space, usually a small cave or hollow log and raises the young alone. The young open their eyes by the ninth or tenth day. They start exploring their surroundings at four weeks and are weaned at about two months. The mother brings meat to their young and teaches them how to hunt after they are weaned. Within three to five months they begin to travel with their mother. They will be hunting by themselves by fall of their first year and usually leave their mother shortly thereafter.

The adult male Bobcat averages 36 inches in length and stands about 14 or 15 inches at the shoulders. Adult males usually range from 16 to 30 pounds with females averaging about 20 pounds. The Bobcat is muscular, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs, giving it a bobbing gait. Bobcat tracks show four toes without claw marks, due to their retractable claws. Their tracks can range in size from 1 to 3 inches and, when walking or trotting, the tracks are spaced roughly 8 to 18 inches apart. The Bobcat can make great strides when running, often from 4 to 8 feet. Like all cats, the Bobcat directly registers, meaning its hind prints usually fall exactly on top of its fore prints.

Bobcats typically live to six or eight years of age, with a few reaching beyond ten. The longest they have been known to live is 16 years in the wild and 32 years in captivity. The Phoenix Zoo is home to one Bobcat, Nacho, who lives on Arizona Trail.

The Phoenix Zoo is located at 455 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. Rain or shine, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day (Dec. 25). Regular-season hours (Sept. 1-May 31) are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Summer hours (June 1-Aug. 31) are 7 a.m.-1 p.m. during the week and 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on the weekends Admission is $14 for adults, $6 for children and $9 for seniors. For more information, call 602-273-1341 or visit .