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Bobcats and Lynxes: Putting the "Wild" in Wildcat

Since even the three species of lynx vary somewhat in regards to size and appearance, it can be difficult to make any wide generalizations about differences among them and bobcats. For instance, a subspecies of Eurasian lynx (called the Siberian lynx) can weigh up to 84 pounds (38 kilograms) -- much more than the average lynx weight of 18 to 60 pounds (8 to 27 kilograms) [source: San Diego Zoo]. Nevertheless, differences do exist.

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To begin with, the bobcat looks a bit more like an overgrown house cat than a lynx does. With extra-long tufts of fur on its ears and a shaggy mane of fur around its cheeks, the lynx takes on an otherworldly appearance. The long black ear tufts, which can grow to be almost an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, act as excellent hearing aids, enabling the agile cat to pick up on the soft footsteps of its prey [source: Microsoft Encarta].

A lynx also has larger feet and longer legs than a bobcat to help it navigate the deep snow common in its range. Its big, furry paws act like snowshoes to help this feline chase down food in the winter. Much of the time, that food consists of snowshoe hares. Anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the diet of the Canadian lynx is made up of hares [source: Keystone Conservation].

The Spanish lynx, also a specialist in rabbit and hare hunting, has been reduced to a population of around 300 individuals as a result of declines in the rabbit population. The larger Eurasian variety is not quite as picky and has been known to feast on reindeer three to four times its size [source: San Diego Zoo].

The bobcat has a more varied diet than its rabbit- and hare-loving cousins, supplementing with small prey like birds and mice. The stealthy cat can also bring down larger animals, like deer, with a pounce spanning about 10 feet (3 meters) [source: National Geographic].

­It's a good thing bobcats don't have the same attraction to snowshoe hares, since their smaller paws wouldn't fare as well in the snow. Their coats, too, are shorter with more spots than those of lynxes and range from light gray to the more common brown. Lynxes, with the exception of the spotted Spanish lynx, lack much of a pattern on their long, thick, mostly gray fur.

Of course, an article on bobcats wouldn't be complete without mentioning their short, rounded tails that appear to be cut, or "bobbed." While both cats have the characteristic haircut-gone-awry type of tail, the bobcat's is banded with black stripes. It's also black at the top of the tip and white at the bottom, while the lynx's tail lacks banding and is completely black at the tip.

A final way to spot the difference between bobcats and lynxes deals with behavior. Although both species (barring the larger Spanish lynx) are roughly the same size, bobcats seem to have more of an attitude. They've even earned themselves the nickname "spitfires of the Animal Kingdom" because of their fierce hunting style and bold behavior [source: San Diego Zoo].

So whether you're observing from afar or up close, you now know what those wacky taxonomists were thinking. For more information on cats, pounce to the next page.