Bobcats are native to North America, where they live in every habitat type from arctic tundra to desert. They’re also found in Central and South America, but they’re rarely seen there; the only other countries that have natural bobcat populations are Spain and Portugal.
Bobcats can weigh between 10-60 pounds (4-27 kilos) or more, depending on how fat it’s getting during the winter. Their tails are long, bushy, brownish black with 3-5 dark stripes on them. Bobcats have thick, brownish-black hair on their coats and white fur on their bellies.
Male bobcats are scent markings, looking like dark areas on their coat. These spots are called “rosettes” and males use them to attract potential mates.
Bobcats aren’t always solitary creatures; they live in groups called “clans,” which usually consists of 2 to 8 bobcats and even sometimes more than that. However, in order for a male bobcat to reproduce it must establish his territory. It also helps if he has good hunting skills and good co-ordination in order to catch prey without hurting himself or his clan members. Males in a group often use their scent markings in shared territories, especially when hunting or defending their home grounds.
Female bobcats are called “kittens” and they’re usually born between March and June. Their litters can include one to five kittens, which are blind when they’re born. The kittens’ eyes open after about 2 weeks of age, but they still nurse for about 6 weeks. Bobcats are very protective of their kittens, since litters are vulnerable when they’re small. Females won’t go off hunting until the kittens are old enough to not be at risk when the mother goes off hunting alone.
Bobcat kittens are weaned around the age of 8 weeks. They’re fragile and easily injured, so they can’t go out on their own until they mature and acquire the ability to hunt on their own. This usually happens between 16 and 21 weeks and happens along with behavioural and physical changes (most likely, this is part of the reason for bobcats’ solitary life style; they’re too weak to defend a den for an extended period of time, so they’re very territorial).
Bobcat kittens learn how to hunt quickly, but it’s still dangerous for them since they’ll often get into fights with larger predators (just like how cats fight among themselves). A mother bobcat will teach its young how and where to hunt and shows them how to deal with danger from predators.
After 5 or 6 months, the kittens are mature enough that they can go off on their own. In order to mate, a male bobcat must establish his territory. Usually they’re not successful around the same time as their siblings, but since they’re solitary animals, this doesn’t matter much. Since bobcats are solitary animals, they don’t have “cubs” until they find a mate and establish a territory for themselves. They can mate with juvenile females but usually attack juveniles of both sexes when there is a chance for mating with a female of an age similar to his own. When a bobcat is ready to mate, it will mark its chosen area with urine and scents. In order for a female to accept a male’s courtship, she will also make a small, rough circle around the area in which she will accept his courtship.
After mating, females carry the embryos in their wombs for about 2 months. After that time has passed, they’ll give birth to one to five kittens in stalking dens around 30 days later. Since they’re solitary animals once they’re born, the kittens’ survival depends on whether or not their mother is still alive (like young cubs of other carnivores).
The mother begins to teach her kittens how and where to hunt by example. When the kittens first begin their trial-and-error hunting period, they’re very vulnerable and can be easily caught by predators. Mother bobcats will hide their young in trees, on large branches or on small rocky areas on the ground until they’re old enough to learn to hunt for themselves. In order to protect their young from predators, mother bobcats remain extremely protective of their young which means that if a mother is killed or seriously injured during this time period, most of the young will die from starvation. The mother will hunt with her young every night, teaching them how to stalk prey and strike quickly before they can be seen.
Bobcat kittens reach adult size between their first and second year. During this time, they become fast enough to catch prey, but they’re still vulnerable to attacks by other predators. Bobcats live an average of 6 years in the wild, but may live up to 20 years in captivity.
Mother bobcats teach their young how and when to hunt by example. If she believes that her young are ready to hunt on their own, she gives them a small amount of hunting ground in which they can practice hunting for themselves. They usually check in with her every night after they’ve hunted during the day (they can’t sleep much during the day because their mother is out hunting). They move out completely after five months.
Male bobcats reach sexual maturity at around 9 months. Regular females reach sexual maturity at 8 months, but delayed females may not become sexually mature until the second year of their life. When a female becomes pregnant, she builds a den in dense cover to give birth. She usually gives birth in that same den to several kittens, weighing about 0.6 to 1 pound (0.27 to 0.45 kilos) each. The kittens are born with their eyes closed and are unable to walk or see for the first 10 days of their lives. They begin eating meat when they are about two weeks old, but continue nursing until they are about six weeks old. The mother remains with her kittens for about 2 months. During this time she teaches them how to hunt for food and defends them from predators. Kittens will play with one another as they grow older.
Males become sexually mature at 9 months and begin to expand their territory boundaries at this time. Females become sexually mature after 7 months and wait up to a year before breeding. One controlled study showed that the gestation period of the bobcat is 56 days, but that is likely an average and there is likely a lot of variation between individual females and between different bobcat populations or subspecies.