Taxonomists work in mysterious ways. According to them, everyone on this Earth -- from your tattooed next-door neighbor and his blue-haired girlfriend to devout Buddhists and sherpas on the other side of the world -- belongs to a single species called Homo sapiens. Yet animals that look like near mirror images of each other are grouped as separate species.
Take the bobcat and lynx, for instance. The former is a medium-sized cat with long, tufted ears and a short, bobbed tail, while the latter is, well, a medium-sized cat with long, tufted ears and a short, bobbed tail. Yet they got slapped with different names and assigned to different species. So what gives?
Believe it or not, there's a method to the madness. While bobcats and lynxes are separate species, they do belong to the same genus, which, coincidentally, happens to be the Lynx genus. There are four different species belonging to this group -- three of which share the family name: the Eurasian lynx, the Spanish (or Iberian) lynx and the Canadian lynx. The fourth member, the most common cat native to North America, is the previously mentioned bobcat.
The Lynx genus, with its four species, has the largest range out of all the cats. The Eurasian lynx (the most numerous and widespread of the four species) can be found throughout Western Europe and Northern Asia, while the Spanish lynx (the rarest of the four) is found only in Spain and Portugal. The Canadian lynx lives primarily in Canada and a handful of northern U.S. states including Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming and Washington.
While the three species bearing the family name have the bobcat outnumbered in terms of global spread, the bobcat dominates the continent of North America. That's because the lynx prefers forested areas since that's where its main source of food, the snowshoe hare, lives. The bobcat tolerates a more varied habitat -- from marshes and swampy areas in the southern part of the continent, to desert and scrub in the western regions to mountainous, forested areas in the north. The only area where the Canadian lynx and bobcat coexist is along the U.S.-Canada border.
Geography isn't the only difference between bobcats and lynxes. Learn how to tell them apart by taking a quick glance at their ears, coat, feet and tails on the next page.