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Bobcats, the only resident native wild cat in Indiana, are a species of great curiosity. Because they are generally a solitary and secretive animal, bobcats often leave Hoosier wanting to know more about these unique mammals.
Between 1970 and 2014, the IDNR received bobcat reports from 63 Indiana counties. Although bobcat reports are more common in southern Indiana, confirmed reports have been received from west-central and northern regions.
A study conducted by the IDNR in south-central Indiana revealed that bobcats are capable of dispersing up to 100 miles from where they were born. Their ability to cover long distances allows them to spread into available habitat. It also puts them close to roadways. Vehicle collisions are now a common cause of bobcat mortalities.
The bobcat (Felis rufus) is a moderate-sized member of the cat family. They sport a stubby tail only 4 or 5 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.
Illustration courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation.
The Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife occasionally receives reports of large mammals such as mountain lions, gray wolves and black bears.
With the exception of bobcats and coyote, there are NO breeding populations of these other species in Indiana.
But one of these large mammals may pass through Indiana from established populations in other states:
If you would like to report a sighting, use our online large mammal report form.
Recent research and trends in the number of bobcats reported to the IDNR (trail cameras photos, sightings, road-kills and other mortalities) indicate the bobcat population is expanding. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, more than 60 bobcat mortalities were reported each year. A majority were in the southern third of the state where the hills, mixed woodlots and reclaimed mines provide ideal 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.
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 later 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 1 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. Kitten survival is associated with prey abundance, with more young surviving during the years of higher rabbit populations.
Typical bobcat habitat is 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.
As with all wildlife, if you see a bobcat, it should be respected. The natural response of a bobcat is to flee from humans.
Having bobcat populations across the state is a good thing, but it can generate questions about livestock predation, safety of pets and impacts on game birds. Conflicts between bobcats and livestock are rare. A recent report on the diet of bobcats in Indiana found they preferred prey such as rabbits and small mammals, rather than birds. To date, the IDNR has received no verified accounts of bobcats injuring a pet.