EARTH LADY: Bobcats play important role in the balance of nature

The bobcat is about 2 feet tall, weighs between 20 and 30 pounds and has a "bobbed" tail with a black tip. (Courtesy photo)

Early one morning, the Earth Lady was departing the neighborhood and espied a bobcat furtively crossing the road. The bobcat is elusive and seldom seen by humans, but the Earth Lady was fortunate enough to see this wildcat of forests and bottomlands saunter with feline grace and fluidity across the road and into a neighbor’s lovely landscaped backyard. (One certainly hopes that the toy poodle was not out that morning taking his daily constitutional.) Since that early morning encounter, there have been other reports of bobcat sightings.

The bobcat, Lynx rufus, looks like a very large housecat. It is about 2 feet tall, weighs between 20 and 30 pounds, and it does have a “bobbed” tail with a black tip. The bobcat is brown with black spots, has large, tufted ears, and a ruff of fur on its cheeks. It has five toes on its front feet and four toes on its back feet.

Bobcats are carnivores and are excellent predators. Primarily nocturnal, they do most of their hunting at night. The bobcat becomes active at dusk and remains so until a few hours after dawn, which means that it is crepuscular, which is a new word to add to your vocabulary. Bobcats stealthily stalk their prey and attack by leaping high in the air and then pouncing on the hapless victim. They prey upon a variety of small mammals, including squirrels, woodchucks, raccoons, mice and rabbits. They will also eat birds and reptiles, and will sometimes take down large animals, such as deer. And yes, if they are very hungry and if available, bobcats will occasionally dine on Fido or Fluffy, but their favorite meal is the Eastern cottontail rabbit.

Primarily solitary animals, bobcats will travel several miles a night in search of food. If necessary, these wildcats can swim streams and climb trees. Bobcats are very territorial and like the housecat that misbehaves, they mark their territory. They do not tolerate the presence of another bobcat, except in February or March when they mate. In April or May the female will have a litter of two to four kittens, and the young will stay with the mother learning to hunt until they are almost a year old. Then they strike out on their own.

The only predators of bobcats are humans, gray wolves and mountain lions. The kittens are susceptible to predation by owls, coyotes and foxes, but humans and loss of habitat are their greatest threats.

A wildcat in the neighborhood might seem rather menacing, especially for a free-range chicken, but bobcats play an important role in the balance of nature and pose no threat to humans. Bobcats were in the area when it was a wilderness. From their dens in the old growth forests they watched the Chickasaws paddle their canoes down Town Creek and the early pioneers travel down the Natchez Trace. The bobcats watched as the trees were felled, and crops were planted and the city moved to the country. The Earth Lady’s early morning encounter with the bobcat was a reminder that she was the interloper in the neighborhood. The bobcat was here first.

The Earth Lady by Margaret Gratz appears in the Daily Journal Home & Garden section once a month.

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