Bobcats in Indiana
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 2016, the Indiana DNR received bobcat reports from 68 counties. Although bobcat reports are more common in southern Indiana, confirmed reports have been received from its west-central and northern regions.
A study conducted by the DNR 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 a common cause of bobcat mortalities.
The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a moderate-sized member of the cat family. Its most recognizable feature is a stubby tail 4–5 inches long. Bobcats range in length from 30–50 inches, stand about 2 feet high and weigh 15–30 pounds. Large tufts of fur on the cheeks are characteristic of the species. The fur is reddish-brown or tan above with a white belly. The species has black marks on the inside of the legs, and often black spots or streaks throughout the coat, though these are sometimes light-colored and not easily noticeable, depending on the individual animal. Bobcats may live as long as 10–12 years in the wild. Bobcat vocalizations can sound eerie at nighttime, but are rarely heard by people.
Report a large mammal sighting in Indiana
The Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife occasionally receives reports of large carnivores such as mountain lions, gray wolves and black bears.
There are currently NO breeding populations of these species in Indiana. But one of these animals may pass through Indiana from established populations in other states.
You can report a sighting of these animals online.
Though not a large mammal, bobcats may also be reported.
Distribution and abundance
The information the DNR has suggests bobcats are common in southern Indiana and expanding in other parts of Indiana. Data on sightings and trail-camera submissions are collected, as is mortality data. Bobcat sightings are also tracked through the annual Archer’s Index, where volunteer deer bow hunters report the number of hours they hunt and the species they saw while hunting. The DNR is also coordinating Snapshot Indiana, a citizen-science trail-camera survey that aims to help track bobcat expansion into new areas. Learn about volunteering for the Archer’s Index if you bow-hunt deer, or how to host a trail camera for Snapshot Indiana by visiting our volunteer page.
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. Research here in Indiana showed that their preferred prey is rabbits, but they also feed on rats, mice, voles and squirrels. Deer may also be eaten by bobcats, usually in the form of road-killed deer or young, susceptible deer fawns. Some research has shown bobcats can take adult deer, but usually only when deep snow conditions work in their favor, which is a rare occurrence in Indiana. Muskrats can also be a choice food for bobcats.
Bobcats are territorial and generally solitary animals. Territorial scent-marking with urine and scats, especially by males, has been reported. While bobcats can technically breed year-round, the vast majority of mating generally occurs in early spring during February and March with the young being 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. During 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 and other small-mammal populations.
Typical bobcat habitat is forested areas interspersed with brushy edge habitat and fields for hunting. 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 are also considered good bobcat habitat.
Management and control
As with all wildlife, bobcats should be respected if encountered. The natural response of a bobcat is to flee from humans. Bobcats, like all wildlife, should never be fed or approached because doing so can reduce their natural response to flee and lead to negative interactions.
Having bobcat populations across the state is a positive, but it can generate questions about livestock predation, safety of pets and impacts on game birds. Conflicts between bobcats and livestock are rare, but landowners may request a nuisance wildlife permit from the DNR for bobcats in the rare instance that damage is occurring. Research on the diet of bobcats in Indiana found they preferred to eat mammals like rabbits and mice, rather than birds. To date, the DNR has received no verified accounts of bobcats injuring a pet, but keeping dogs leashed and cats indoors is encouraged as it can reduce negative interactions with all wildlife.