The Bobcat (Lynx rufus)–Another Pleistocene Survivor

On New Year’s Day 2005 I saw a live wild bobcat.  This is the only time I’ve ever seen one.  I was looking out the window and noticed the brown rump of what I thought was a medium-sized dog.  It had a bob-tail and was sniffing around my neighbor’s mailbox.  I realized it was a bobcat, not a dog, and I rushed outside to take a closer look.  By this time it had wandered into the vacant lot across the street from my house.  I tried whistling to see if I could get it to approach me.  Instead, it stared at me, and its eyes widened in fear, as if it had never seen a human before.  The cat retreated in zig-zag pattern into the brush that then covered the lot.  This bobcat was much longer and larger than an ordinary housecat.  Though the rump was brown with black spots, most of its body was tawny-colored, so that it could blend with winter shades of grass.  Perhaps not coincidentally, a few months earlier a bobcat killed a 120 pound pit bull terrier on Beech Island, South Carolina about 20 miles from my house.

2004 article from The Augusta Chronicle detailing the fatal attack of a bobcat on a 120 pound pit bull terrier in Beech Island, South Carolina. Click on the image to make the article large enough to read.

According to the dog-owner, she heard her dogs making a commotion.  She went outside and tried to drive the cat off with a stick, but the cat chased her back inside her trailer.  I believe it may not have been coincidence that I saw one within the same year because bobcat populations are cyclical. The local bobcat population may have been high following a cyclical increase in the rabbit population, though they’re not supposed to be as tied to cottontails as their cousins, the Canadian lynx, are to snowshoe hares.

I think bobcats are rather uncommon most of the time in the region where I live.  Road-killed deer and coyotes are common, but I’ve never seen a road-killed bobcat.  I may be wrong, however; bobcats may simply avoid roads whereas coyotes hang around roads to scavenge the automobile carnage, explaining why they’re more often hit by cars.  Radio telemetry studies do show that bobcats avoid roads.  A healthy population of 26-35 bobcats living on Kiawah Island, South Carolina (near Charleston) has been intensively studied.  Scientists have come across a few road-killed bobcats there.  Kiawah Island bobcats help keep the deer population in check, and they are welcomed by nature-loving residents.  One study mentions a well-meaning but misguided tourist who chased away a bobcat that was about to kill a deer fawn on a golf course.  Do-gooders like that just get on my nerves.

This robust looking bobcat killed this mule deer.

Rabbits and rodents make up the majority of a bobcat’s diet.

This bobcat conquered a snake.

Bobcats were introduced to Cumberland Island, Georgia in 1989 in the hopes they would help control the feral hog population by abducting the piglets.  Bobcats were extirpated from the island circa 1910.  They adapted well to this roadless environment which consists of beach, interdune myrtle thickets, maritime live oak and pine forests, palmetto scrub, and fresh and saltwater marshes.  Wilderness areas on the southeastern coastal plain may host up to about 3 bobcats per 5 square miles.  Developed areas support a smaller density of bobcats because they are forced to roam wider areas in order to avoid people.  Their diet includes approximately 20% deer, 65% rabbits and rodents (especially cotton rats), and the balance consists of birds, reptiles, and insects.

Adult bobcats weigh between 20-50 pounds.  It’s surprising that a 20 pound cat can kill a 200 pound deer.  This curiosity of nature is almost like something from Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  But this predation has been recorded many times–I found half a dozen photos on google images of bobcats successfully killing adult deer, though they more often kill fawns.

Bobcats are one of the most common species of carnivores in the Pleistocene fossil record, evidence they outnumbered all other species of cats in North America.  In Georgia bobcat fossils have been excavated from Ladds, Yarbrough Cave, and the Isle of Hope site.  Bobcats evolved from a holarctic species of lynx during the Pliocene.  Early and middle Pleistocene bobcats were larger than late Pleistocene and modern bobcats.  I hypothesize that evolving to a reduced size helped them avoid competition with dire wolves, saber-tooths, and jaguars over larger prey items.  As I’ve noted before on this blog, the biomass of smaller animals such as rabbits and rodents far outweighed the biomass of large herbivores during the Pleistocene, even though it’s more famous for megafauna.  Bobcats survived the extinction of the megafauna because their smaller size enabled them to thrive on the smaller creatures that were still abundant.  During the Pleistocene megafauna populations fluctuated greatly but smaller prey items were always available.  I also hypothesize the bobcat’s ferocity, as evident when they attack much larger deer (and dogs as the above newspaper article relates), comes from an inherited mind-set.  The bobcat may have evolved into a smaller feline, but it still thinks of itself as a 75 pound cat rather than a 40 pounder.

Reference:

Griffin, John

“Bobcat Ecology on Developed and Less Developed Portions of Kiawah Island”

UGA Thesis 2001

 

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13 Responses to “The Bobcat (Lynx rufus)–Another Pleistocene Survivor”

  1. Mark LaRoux Says:

    Mark, I give to you a roadkill bobcat:

    http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2566/4056549787_e0e04b8ba7_z.jpg?zz=1

    http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2667/4057288806_2b71373c7a_z.jpg?zz=1

    well, I hope the link works….I may have sent you the same link last time you posted bobcat stuff. I have an odd habit (like you I assume) of keeping heads of ‘important’ animals. The ones I see are from east of Huntsville, either on Monte Sano and Green mountains and south to Bishop mountain over to Guntersville (this 1 was in Grant near both goats and sheep, 2009). I used to let my dog run off the coyotes close to where I live, but a bobcat keeps me from letting her too far away now…no need to push the issue with the yotes anyway.

    • markgelbart Says:

      Thanks. This is the first time you linked those photos.

      I often wish I had my camera with me when I see road-killed coyotes which are a pretty common site in south Richmond County, Georgia.

      Some day I’m going to remember to bring my camera with me.

  2. Mark LaRoux Says:

    I’ve got a coyote skull from close by…DOR also. It was about 35-45 lbs. living….it got me to thinking about coywolves in north Alabama several years ago (long before the bobcat). I’ve got a job that encourages detailed documentation, so anything I collect at a spot gets a lot of attention, when possible.

  3. markgelbart Says:

    What is your job?

  4. James Robert Smith Says:

    I have seen one road-killed bobcat. I was driving through south Georgia with my wife. It was on Interstate 95 and it was large enough that I noticed it in time to pull over and go look at it. I suspect in was in that 40-lb range. One of my game animal books lists the largest bobcat on record as being well over 70s pounds. That would be a mutant.

    The bobcat is one of my favorite animals. They are very secretive and shy here in the South. But I have friends out west who see them all of the time. Walking around their neighborhoods (they do well in suburban environments in California). One of my friends even has them visit his back yard in the evenings where they steal food he leaves out for the the various animals he likes to photograph in his yard (raccoons, opossums, foxes, etc.).

    My uncle killed a very large bobcat in his plant nursery in Sebastian’s Inlet Florida in the 1950s. I have that photo around somewhere:

    [IMG]http://i59.photobucket.com/albums/g295/jamesrobertsmith/Ersley.jpg[/IMG]

  5. markgelbart Says:

    The largest bobcat on record was probably a throwback to the early and middle Pleistocene bobcats which grew larger than the modern ones.

    The bobcat in the photo was long but skinny.

  6. James Robert Smith Says:

    I don’t know why my uncle killed it, unless it was just because he could. He didn’t have any kind of pets or livestock at his plant nursery. In those days he was a local landscaper and grew all of his own trees, flowers, and plants.

  7. markgelbart Says:

    I used to work in the sporting goods department at K-mart, and I heard hunters talk all the time. A lot of them just like to kill animals for the hell of it.

  8. Bobcat kills 120 pound pit bull - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum Says:

    [...] kills 120 pound pit bull The Bobcat (Lynx rufus)?Another Pleistocene Survivor | GeorgiaBeforePeople The dog owner went outside to try to drive away the cat with a broom, but the cat chased her back [...]

  9. Road Killed Bobcat (Lynx rufus) | GeorgiaBeforePeople Says:

    […] had a good year as well.  It’s an impressive predator, and a Pleistocene survivor (See: http://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/the-bobcat-lynx-rufus-another-pleistocene-survivor/.  The carcass was located on Highway 56 in Richmond County, Georgia 2 minutes north of the Federal […]

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