Wildcats! — January - February 1994

by Bill Berg

Canada lynx

  • Its insulation keeps it warm even when the temperature drops to minus 50.
  • It sees six times better in the dark than human do.
  • It keeps its weapons undercover - ready to appear in a flash.
  • It leaps through the air with ease and always lands on its feet.
  • It practices how to fight by playing.

What is this clever creature?

Any one of Minnesota's four cat species:

  • Bobcat
  • Canada lynx
  • Cougar (also called mountain lion or puma)
  • House cat

All of the world's cats have the traits named above. Cats are among the best hunters on earth.

Canada lynx

Canada Lynx

Canada lynx live in Alaska, Canada, the western mountains of the United States, and northern Minnesota. In these places they can find snowshoe hares, their favorite food. Most of the time, only a few lynx live in Minnesota. But about every 10 years, hundreds of lynx show up in the northern part of the state when the population of snowshoe hares is plentiful. Some lynx come from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba, and others are born in Minnesota's north woods.

Lynx make their dens in hollow logs or rocks. Females have one to four kittens in a litter each spring.

Like bobcats and cougars, lynx live about 12 years in the wild. Lynx have lived more than 21 years in captivity.

bobcat

Bobcat

About 2,000 bobcats live in Minnesota's northern forests and swamps. Bobcats live as far south as central Mexico. Most southern states have tens of thousands.

Bobcats can catch and eat many kinds of prey - mice, rabbits, birds, and deer. When snow is deep, they have trouble hunting and might starve. To ambush a deer in winter, a bobcat lies in wait on a tree branch over a deer trail. When a deer walks under the tree, the cat jumps onto its neck. Unless the deer shakes the bobcat off, it will die when the cat's sharp teeth pierce a large vein or cut off its air supply.

Minnesota law allows people to trap and hunt bobcats.

Bobcat kittens are usually born in April or May, but a litter of one to four can be born as late as September. Bobcats live in a den among rocks or fallen trees. The young will stay with their mother for almost a year.

Cougar

Of all the big animals that live in Minnesota, perhaps the hardest to find is the cougar. They are very rare here.

cougar

Even before European settlers arrived, Minnesota probably did not have many cougars. People hunted cougars during the 1800s, but could find and kill only one or two each year. The last one killed in Minnesota was in 1897. Minnesota law protects cougars.

Even though few cougars live in Minnesota, they are found in many other places. They range from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. In the United States, most cougars live in the western mountains.

Cougars are the biggest wildcats in Minnesota. They can weigh more than 200 pounds. They can measure up to 8 feet from their nose to the end of their long ropelike tail.

Another "Wild" Cat

Minnesota has one more "wild" cat--the house cat. Yes, the same cat that purrs and warms your lap is a predator. Its ancestors were Europeon, Asian, and African wildcats.

Pet house cats kill millions of songbirds in the United States every year. What's the best way to keep a cat from killing birds? Keep it in the house.

When dropped off in the country or left to fend for themselves on farms, house cats become wild. Wild house cats are one of Minnesota's most common predators.

Are you ready for the Cat Quiz?

Wildlife biologist Bill Berg, who wrote this story, has studied wildcats for 20 years.

A complete copy of the article can be found in the January-February 1994 issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, available at Minnesota public libraries.