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Lynx vs Bobcat: The Main Differences Between North America's Elusive Wildcats

Lynx vs Bobcat

These are the differences between a lynx and a bobcat.

North America is home to dozens of fascinating animal species and two carnivores that often fly under the radar are the bobcat and the lynx. These wild cats are much larger than your standard housecat, but smaller than a cougar or mountain lion.

Unlike your domestic cats, both animals are rather shy and elusive around humans. A sighting of these animals is often brief, with the person catching just a slight glance of it as it runs away back into the wilds.

It leaves many people wondering just what North American wild cat species they just saw. That's why today we're giving a little 101 on lynx and bobcats and the main differences between the two. So, in the event you're lucky enough to spot one, you'll know exactly what animal you just saw.


Lynx vs Bobcat

While technically, both animals are part of the same family, their ranges do not overlap as much as one might think. There are a few different species of lynx including the Eurasian lynx, native to Europe and parts of Asia, and the Iberian lynx which is native to parts of southern Europe. However, the only one you're going to see in North America is the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), as seen above. And, as the name suggests, you're going to mostly see it in the great white north.  There are a few different subspecies of bobcat, but the differences are minute at best. 

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approximately 98 percent of the Canadian lynx's range is across Alaska and most of Canada. Within in the continental U.S., breeding populations are scattered. The northernmost part of Maine, northwest Montana and Idaho, north central Washington, and parts of Colorado. They note there are a few other scattered pockets in places like Yellowstone, Michigan's isolated Isle Royale and parts of northern New Hampshire.

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) on the other hand, have a much more widespread range throughout the continental United States. If you see a large wild cat in the south, particularly parts of Florida, Texas and down into Mexico, odds are you saw a bobcat. Populations of bobcat tend to thin out a bit on the east coast and parts of the Midwest, but most western and northern states are home for the animals. Aside from range, you're also more likely to see a bobcat simply because the odds are more in your favor for that animal than a lynx. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers lynx an endangered species due to years of overharvesting and habitat loss. The USFWS also says that lynx populations vary greatly depending on how the population of snowshoe hare is doing. This is obviously because the hare is a favorite food source. In general, the better the hares are faring, the more lynx thrive.

Physical Differences

Lynx vs Bobcat

These two animals look strikingly similar, which makes it harder to differentiate between them at times. One thing to consider is that the lynx usually grows slightly larger than the bobcat. The size of the animal is going to vary based on where they are found and food natural resources on hand. Bobcats and lynx usually fall somewhere in the 15 to 30-pound range. A few exceptional bobcats over 50 pounds have been found, so it is best to not judge on size alone. Look for white spots near the ears on bobcats and an overall smaller face. The lynx reminds us of a long-haired Maine coon cat.

The biggest thing that sets these animals apart is the ear tufts and facial ruffs. Both animals can have these features. However, the ear tufts are usually darker and more pronounced on a lynx than a bobcat. If you see thin, black tufts, it is likely a lynx. Look for white spots on the ears on bobcats and an overall smaller face. The lynx reminds us of a long-haired Maine coon cat. The lynx is better adapted for life in a climate that gets deep snow. As a result, they have longer legs, larger paws, and just an overall beefier appearance. While snowshoe hares are their specialty, this size difference allows the lynx to pounce on larger animals like deer for prey if opportunity presents itself. In addition to smaller paws, a bobcat's feet are usually bare pads. If you can get a close look at the feet, look for fur on the pads. A lynx has an extra layer there to help insulate their feet from long periods in the snow.

Lynx vs Bobcat

Color of the animals can vary greatly. Bobcats like the one above often have a grey to reddish brown or yellow coat marked with black stripes and black spots. The animal is also often white underneath on its belly. The lynx by comparison, often has a white, golden yellow or brown coat. However, the lynx may or may not have spots. If the animal is unspotted, odds are you're looking at a lynx. Again, because lynx live in more northern climates, they often have longer, thicker fur too to help them survive the cold. That lighter-colored coat also helps the lynx blend into a snowy environment better. The appearance of a bobcat's coat often mirrors that of what you'd see in a domestic shorthair cat for the most part.

Another thing to look at are the short tails of these animals. Both are small, but a bobcat's tail is usually slightly longer while a lynx's is more stubby in nature. Both animals usually have a black tip on their tail, however a bobcat's tail is usually banded while a lynx's tail is not.

Consider yourself lucky to see either.

Both animals are quite similar but represent the climates and environments they live in quite well. They are shy and elusive animals that scare easily. Most lynx do not stick around and will use those long legs to run away at the first sight of a human. Even the bobcat, while more common, will use the natural camo of its coat to disappear into the leaf litter and grasses of the forest effortlessly. No matter which wild cat you may have seen. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a bobcat or lynx in the wild.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels



Lynx vs Bobcat: The Main Differences Between North America's Elusive Wildcats