Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Little Lynxes: The Territorial Bobcat
To the beginner naturalist, as a matter of fact, to any naturalist, this small tree is undeniably a redcedar. But to the experienced naturalist, this is a property boundary; one of mother nature's blazing evidences that a feline has claimed the nearby area as its home. These marks are called "scrapes", and have a variety of meanings. This one was the sign of a Bobcat (Lynx rufus). The bobcat gets its name from its "bobbed" (or short) tail. The name Lynx comes from the family of large, northern cats that share the common name lynx, though the bobcat does not. The name rufus comes from the reddish color of bobcat fur that matches the bark of trees and leaf litter. Bobcats are often plainly called "Wildcats" in the Southern Appalachians and are trapped for their luxurious furs. Bobcats hunt anything from insects, lizards and fish, to mice, rabbits, even foxes and small deer. They normally drag their prey into the trees to feast on it later. Bobcats also have ground dens, usually distinguished by worn areas leading to crevices in steep, talus slopes that are hard to access. They can be called in by hunters and naturalists by blowing on a leaf of stilt grass, or any other wide-leafed grass. It makes a hoarse, squeaky noise, similar to an injured rabbit. Hearing and sight are the bobcat's main senses, unlike the scent-oriented canines. Bobcat kittens are well guarded in secret locations that are very hard to find. In the night, bobcats will sometimes call into the night with a yowl that sounds like a "screaming woman". Bobcats can range from the size of a pet house cat to a whopping fifty inches and a report from a New Hampshire roadkill specimen was said to have reached sixty pounds! Though bobcats normally eat rabbits (in most places), hares (in the North), and cotton rats (in the South), bobcats will sometimes kill coyotes and small deer, and five non-fatal but very dangerous attacks on humans have occurred in Florida, Massachusetts and Texas. Bobcat tracks aren't deep, possessing four toes and no claw marks. Their tracks are larger and wider than feral cat tracks as well, and are most often seen through snow or mud. Bobcat feet are wider than feral cat tracks to help the animal tread over deep snow and loose terrain.
(Bobcat tracks across a beach, probably left from a search for cormorant eggs or dead shad and herring. The water adjoining the area is a freshwater inland reservoir. Note rain marks in the sand that suggest precipitation around the time of the bobcat's prowl.) Bobcats are strange in their behavior, being camouflaged but not very afraid. Their favorite hiding places are high in trees that match their colors. Bobcats are relatively solitary except for the breeding season, and they only make noise in the breeding season as well. I have seen three bobcats locally in East Tennessee in three different locations that varied in elevation and habitat. One was a brief glimpse of a grayish bobcat sliding in a stand of scrub pines several miles outside of Elizabethton. The next was a crouched, brownish bobcat that was watching the area from a red oak log in a patch of stilt grass at the foot of Bays Mountain in Kingsport. The next was a reddish bobcat that was standing halfway in a hedge of redcedars in between Kingsport City and Blountville. The signs of bobcats are truly much more common, and I have seen too many of those to count. Just follow the tracks, let out a call, and you may see this:
(Clyde, one of Bays Mountain's Bobcats who recently escaped, yawning to show off his long, sharp fangs. But don't worry, escaped bobcats have been caught and retrieved safely in the past.)
Happy Trails, Critter Cade