6 Wild Cats Still Found Roaming the U.S.

By: Michelle Konstantinovsky  | 

mountain lion
Mountain lions (Felis concolor) are revered as phantoms of the desert, as they are solitary roamers and are rarely, if ever, seen by humans or their prey. Francis Apesteguy/Getty Images

In 2017, my local news channel ran an online piece titled, "TIMELINE: This week's San Francisco mountain lion sightings." And while the piece explicitly stated that such sightings were typically very rare, it was a little disconcerting to think even one such sighting could take place in a bustling metropolis like San Francisco.

But the reality is, as technologically advanced and digitally obsessed as our cities are, we're all pretty much just guests in the wild space on which this country is built. "Many Americans don't realize that even today we share our landscapes with wild cats," says Shari Wilcox, Ph.D., Texas Representative for national conservation organization, Defenders of Wildlife in an email interview. "From the remote stretches of Arizona where the jaguar still prowls to bobcats lounging poolside in suburban backyards; from cougars who pass before the Hollywood sign each night in Los Angeles to lynxes who bound down ski slopes. We share these spaces with wild cats across the U.S., and we have a responsibility to our feline neighbors to share these landscapes responsibly so that they have access to habitat, prey, and mates so that they may survive and thrive."

Here are the six species of wild cats you may not have known still inhabit the U.S.:


1. Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)

Looks like: Similar in appearance to a bobcat: long ear tufts, short, bobbed tail with a completely black tip, large paws and long hind legs.

Found in: Mostly only in northern states along the Canadian border or in mountainous regions.

Endangered in the U.S.? Not listed, which means it is an abundant and wide-ranging species.

Fun Fact: The Canada lynx makes sounds similar to those of a domestic cat: It can purr, meow, hiss, growl and shriek.

Canadian lynx
The Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis).
Wikimedia Commons (CC By-SA 3.0)/Michael Zahra


2. Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Looks like: Large ears, short tail, brown fur with black spots.

Found in: All parts of the U.S. except for certain parts of the midwest. The bobcat can live in forests, deserts, mountains, swamps and farmland.

Endangered in the U.S.? Not listed, which means it is an abundant and wide-ranging species.

Fun fact: "Bobcats are incredibly resourceful and have a widely varied diet depending upon the food sources near them," says Susan Bass, director of public relations at Big Cat Rescue. "Northern bobcats are stockier and have thicker coats in order to endure cold temperatures."

The bobcat (Lynx rufus).
John Moore/Getty Images


3. Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)

Looks like: Light yellow to reddish gray fur with dark spots and stripes and rings of dark fur around the tail.

Found in: Currently found only in extreme southern Texas.

Endangered? Yes.

Fun Fact: Ocelot kittens are born blind — after about a month, their eyes finally open and they start to develop different colors on their fur.

The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.0)


4. Mountain Lion (Felis concolor or Puma concolor)

Looks like: Tan to gray body; cubs are usually covered with blackish brown spots. Adult males can be up to 8 feet (2.1 meters) long and weigh between 130 and 150 pounds (59 and 68 kg). Adult females can be 7 feet (2.4 meters) long and weigh between 65 and 90 pounds (29 and 41 kg).

Found in: Coast-to-coast, but primarily in 14 western states with a small endangered population in Florida.

Endangered? Threatened.

Fun Fact: "Mountain lions are known by numerous names including cougars, Florida panthers, pumas and catamounts," Bass says.

mountain lion
The mountain lion (Felis concolor or Puma concolor).


5. Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Looks like: Compact body with a yellow and tan coat (can also be reddish brown to black) with spots that are more solid and black on the head and back and turn into "rosette-shaped patterns along the side and back of the body."

Found in: Almost completely eliminated from the U.S. — one of the last ones was killed in Arizona in 2018.

Endangered? Definitely.

Sad Fact: "It's believed there is only one wild jaguar living in the U.S.," Bass says.

The jaguar (Panthera onca).


6. Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi)

Looks like: Unspotted, elongated body, smaller, rounded ears and shorter limbs relative to body size.

Found in: Southern Texas and Arizona.

Endangered? Yes.

Fun Fact: Jaguarundis look similar to members of the family Mustelidae (which includes weasels, badgers, otters, etc.), which caused early German zoologists to refer to the species as the "weasel cat."

The jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi).
Wikimedia Commons (CC By-SA 3.0)

Editor's Note: We changed the headline on this piece from "6 Big Cats Still Found in the U.S." to "6 Wild Cats Still Found Roaming the U.S." after some sharp-eyed readers noticed that, while all our subject cats are, indeed, wild, not all actually fall under the category of "big cats."


Wild Cats FAQs

Is the jaguar the largest cat in North America?
Yes. Adult jaguars can easily weigh upward of 200 pounds, while there have been reports of some weighing close to 300 pounds.
What wild cats inhabit North America?
Six species are native to the region: the puma (also referred to as cougar or mountain lion), bobcat, ocelot, Canadian lynx, jaguar and jaguarundi.
What U.S. states are home to cougars?
Cougars are found in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida and Texas.
Are bobcats and wildcats the same?
Bobcats are sometimes referred to as wildcats, and are about twice the size of the average house cat. They're called "bobcats" because of their "bobbed" tail. Their ears, paws and long legs are quite similar to those found to be characteristic of the Canadian lynx.
How many species of wild cats exist in the world today?
There are 38 species of wild cats found all around the world.