There’s a lot of confusion about lynxes out there. For example, despite some rumors to the contrary, the technical term for their large paws is unfortunately not “huge floofers” (we wish it was!). Also, you may have noticed that lynxes look very similar to bobcats. What’s the difference? Never fear! That’s why we’re here. Safari Ltd® has the low down on this whole lynx vs. bobcat business.
The short answer is that the bobcat IS a lynx…or rather, a type of lynx. Any cat in the “Lynx” genus is technically a lynx, but all species except the bobcat also include “lynx” in their common name. The four species of lynx are the Eurasian lynx, the Canadian lynx, the Iberian lynx, and the bobcat. The type species, aka the “original” lynx is the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), but the one most likely to be confused with the bobcat (Lynx rufus) is the Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis), since their ranges overlap.
The Canadian lynx is found in much of Canada and Alaska, as well as some parts of the northwestern United States. The bobcat, meanwhile, can be found in much of the United States and Mexico, but the uppermost part of its range spills into Canada, where it shares the habitat with its Canadian relative. As members of the same genus, they’re quite similar. Both are medium-sized wild cats with shaggy coats and ears that are “tufted”, meaning each ear has a little extra bit of fur at the tip.
So, you’re traveling along the Canada/United States border and you see a medium-sized shaggy wild cat… What is it? A lynx or a bobcat? Here’s what to consider:
- Canadian lynxes are, on average, larger than bobcats. However, large bobcats can be similarly sized to lynxes, and they tend to grow larger in the northern part of their range where the two species overlap. Additionally, unless you see them both at the same time, judging by size probably isn’t going to be very helpful.
- The coat is a pretty big giveaway. Canadian lynxes have yellowish coats, sometimes with a grey back, mostly lacking in markings. Their legs can have stripes or spots, but this is usually due to the way their fur moves on the leg, allowing the darker undercoat to show through. Bobcats, meanwhile, tend to have a brown coat with variable but highly visible spots, particularly on and around the legs.
- The head and face is another tell. Both cats have tufted ears, but those of the Canadian lynx are longer than the bobcat’s, and the lynx also tends to have a shaggier face. The fur around its face, known as “ruff”, is longer in the lynx, and tends to droop downward on either side. Bobcats have a similar ruff, but it doesn’t droop nearly as much.
- The way they walk is a good indicator as well. Lynxes have longer legs, especially their back legs. This brings their hips up higher than their shoulders when they walk. Bobcats have a much flatter back, since their legs are shorter and the front are only slightly shorter than the back legs. Bobcats also have smaller paws (or less huge, less floofy floofers, one might say).
- Finally, even though the bobcat’s name refers to its short “bob” of a tail, its tail is actually longer than that of the lynx. The bobcat’s tail is striped with a tip that’s black above and white below, whereas the lynx’s tail is unmarked except for its all black tip.
Hopefully this will help you out with your wild cat identification in the future. And always remember, if you do see one of these creatures, treat them with the respect that they and all wildlife deserve: keep your distance, don’t harass them, and let them go about their day in peace.
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: The large, fluffy feet of the lynx act as snow shoes, helping them to run across snow easier as they chase prey. They’re even furry on the bottoms of their feet!