The Lone Rangers of Texas
Feb. 20, 2011 at 1:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 19, 2011 at 8:20 p.m.
By Karalyn Jones
Totem hides well on most days. Only the dedicated watcher can make him out against the brush surrounding the top of his exhibit.
Totem is a bobcat, a native Texas species, and a longtime resident of The Texas Zoo. These felines are roughly twice the size of a house cat with a grayish brown to reddish brown coat. Dark spots and stripes allow them to blend in well with the wide variety of environments they call home.
Bobcats range from coast-to-coast of the United States and most of North America as a whole. They actually have the widest range of any native feline in the U.S.
Their tufted ears and bobbed, black tipped tail are reminiscent of the lynx, their cousin. While they appear near identical, a few good observations will help you discern between the two. Overall, bobcats are smaller, with smaller paws and ear tuffs but larger ears. Their spotting is also more defined.
Their smaller paws limit their ability to hunt and travel in the snow, which is why their population is limited in the far north, versus the lynx, which is prevalent there.
Bobcats are one of the few hunters to remain in Texas. These strong and stealthy carnivores can take down prey as big as a deer, but typically hunt small mammals and birds. As opportunist feeders, they're not picky and will even eat carrion if it is presented.
Their lean body and longer legs give them a powerful pounce and speedy gait - up to 10 feet and 30 mph. But with retractable claws, they can easily sneak up on prey. Speaking of claws, bobcats are great climbers as well.
Hunting is a solo event, as is much of this feline's life. Bobcats rarely cross paths or even territories, which can grow up to 30 square miles.
Male and female territories sometimes overlap but never same gender territories.
When mating season comes, however, pairs will spend a few days hunting, traveling, and even dining together.
Bobcats may come together to mate but parenting is a single mom affair. She cares for one to six babies, which are born blind. Those kittens will stay under her protection and care for up to a year before departing to mate and establish their own territory.
Mountain lions and wolves are their natural predators but man is their most common one.
Restless and solitary, bobcats roam great distances from late afternoon to early morning. While you may not be able to spot them, bobcats frequent suburban areas as well. They prefer transition zones between forests and grasslands, however.
Karalyn Jones is the Texas Zoo's education curator. For more information about the zoo or upcoming events, visit www.texaszoo.org or call 361-573-7681.