Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bad Day to be a Bobcat

Update: appears our ID of this poor little soul was wrong and it's not a bobcat, but a domestic cat (perhaps feral). Has me a bit surprised - I saw the carcass, and while it was quite torn up and deteriorated, it really looked like a bobcat. Pelt color, spots, tail, head... But I guess teeth don't lie and that lil pre-molar behind the canine is the tell - Felis catus have it, and Lynx rufus don't.


About a year ago a friend found a dead bobcat on a trail by our family lodge. Being wise in the ways of the woods, he hung the carcass in a tree so the yellow-jackets could strip it clean, and we could recover the bones later. The resulting washed-up skull has an interesting tale to tell...

Introducing Bob the bobcat:

Adult western bobcats, Lynx rufus, are about 20-25 lbs (10kg). Kinda like a 
really big tabby cat. The skull size suggested male, but I can't be sure.

Top-down view of Bob:

Mountain lion skulls are almost twice the size of bobcat skulls,
and not quite as flat-faced. Their teeth are bigger as well.

Looking at this angle, it doesn't take much of a forensic scientist to see what happened on the trail that fateful day - it appears that Bob ran into the bitey end of a coyote...

Pattern and size of bite mark say the culprit was a Canis latrans

Canine tooth distance and overall pattern are consistent with coyote. Gray fox jaws & teeth are about 1/2 the size and may be too small to break through a skull with a bite. Besides, gray foxes are about the same size as a bobcat and would not wanna mess with all those teeth & claws.

I'd edu-guess Bob got outnumbered by the pair of local coyotes we see roaming around (even chasing deer), and have caught on my cam traps. Adult coyotes are typically 30-40 lbs, and two of them would be a tough match for a 20-25 lb Bob. Btw - a 10lb difference might not sound like a lot until you think of it in scale - it's 1/2 again the body weight of the bobcat. That's a big difference. It's a 160 lb fighter vs. a 240 lb fighter (or two!). Which would you bet on?

The two local coyotes trying to dig a frozen deer dinner from under the snow

But maybe there's a little more to the skull story. It appears Bob might have been an older cat, and getting a little short in the tooth:

Bob the bobcat also had a broken front fang

That can affect feeding and thus health, and make it even harder on an ole bobcat in a fight. But that's the ways of the woods. At some point, we all have a bad day. Hopefully, Bob had a whole lot of good ones beforehand.


For my bobcat readers out there feeling sad for their friend that died to help me tell this tale, here's an uplifting counter-point story...

Good Day to be a Bobcat
(note: not the same bobcat as featured above)

One day last spring while exploring a field near our fenceline, I heard a sharp snap and snarl from beyond the fence. I turned and in the field just 50 feet from me a bobcat was zig-zagging in high-pursuit of a western gray squirrel. The bobcat had been hiding in a big pile of dead manzanita snags, and the field-foraging squirrel was now running for the woods like his life depended on it. It did. The amazingly agile cat caught the tree squirrel just 3 feet from a big pondy pine. Here's the series I snapped as the grayback cat stopped to give me some stares, and then saunter off with the snack...

bobcat with gray squirrel

bobcat with gray squirrel

bobcat with gray squirrel

bobcat with gray squirrel

Note: this series may also one day be seen on a post titled "Bad Day to be a Gray Squirrel."





  1. Well, it was a good day to be a follower of your blog! What a good post. Thank you so much. ~karen

  2. Thanks Karen! Glad you enjoyed Bob's story.

  3. Incredible natural history moments witnessed.

    I would kill for a bobcat skull!

  4. Excellent post. I've awarded you a Sunshine Award. Check the details on my blog and feel free to pass it on. ~ks

  5. Great post, Ken. That Bob had seen better days, and was a tad slow for the yotes.

  6. Sorry to throw cold water on Bob, but the skull pictures prove him to have been a housecat. Skull size does overlap at the small end of the bobcat range, but:

    That little premolar tooth behind Bob's canine is a housecat feature; bobcats and lynx don't have it.

    The eyesocket of a housecat is almost or completely encircled in back by bony projections from the cheekbone and top of the skull. Bobcats and lynx have pointy projections to the rear--resembling open-mouthed fangs--but these don't come close to completing the circle.


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