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The bobcat (Felis rufus) is a moderate-sized member of the cat family. The name is appropriate because they sport a stubby tail only four or five inches long. Bobcats range in length from 30 to 50 inches, stand about 2 feet high and weigh from 15 to 30 pounds. Large tufts of fur on the cheeks are characteristic of the species. The fur is reddish-brown above and a whitish below, and black spots or streaks are throughout the coat. Bobcats live as long as 10 to 12 years in the wild. Eerie screams are often emitted by bobcats during the night.
Many scientific studies have documented that bobcats are entirely carnivorous. Their preferred prey are rabbits, but they also feed on rats, mice, moles and squirrels. Some studies have reported that small deer are occasionally taken by bobcats. Carcasses of kills too large to move, such as small deer may be cached or hidden for latter meals.
Bobcats are territorial and generally solitary animals with limited social life. Territorial scent-marking with urine and scats, especially by males, has been reported. Mating generally occurs in early spring during February and March, and the young are born after a 62-day gestation period. An average litter of three kittens is born in April or May. The female may move the kittens to several different dens during the growth period. Males do not assist in raising the young. The young generally remain with the female until they reach one year of age. At that time they learn predatory skills necessary for survival. After one year, the young disperse, and the female will enter another reproductive season. Some adults have shown that kitten survival is associated with prey abundance, with more young surviving during the years of higher rabbit populations.
Typical bobcat habitat is characteristic as remote, well forested areas of rugged topography with cliffs, bluffs or rocky outcrops. The unglaciated region of south central Indiana seems to provide the best bobcat habitat in the Hoosier state. Limestone caves found in this region, as well as rocky outcrops, hollow trees and logs could be used as denning sites. Bottomland hardwood forests along river systems bounded by large bluffs and timbered slopes are also considered good bobcat habitat.
Bobcats are a far-ranging mammal, having home ranges as large as 20 square miles They are primarily nocturnal, hunting and moving during early morning and late evening hours. Their secretive, nocturnal behavior and preference for remote areas make interactions between humans and bobcats relatively rare. Bobcats are agile and accomplished climbers. They can dart around rock ledges in pursuit of prey or can scurry up trees to escape from dogs.