Lynx is a genus of cat native to the northern hemisphere. There are four extant species, two in Europe and two in North America, though one of the European species is also found in western Asia. They are members of the subfamily Felinae, which encompasses the small cats. The Eurasian lynx, largest of the lynx species, are largest of all small cats, after the cougar (Puma concolor) and the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus).
The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is the largest and most widespread species. Male Eurasian lynx range from 80 to 130cm in length, and can weigh up to 30kg. Females tend to be slightly smaller. They have gray to tawny fur, with black spots or short bands. Their spots tend to be muted, fading into the surrounding fur color. Like all lynx, they have a prominent ruff of long fur around their face and long tufts of fur on their ears. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the very short black-tipped tail, seldom more than 15cm in length.
Eurasian lynx take a wide variety of prey, ranging from mice to reindeer, but by far the most common prey items are lagomorphs like the European rabbit and the Cape hare. Birds, especially ducks, are somewhat commonly taken as well. Larger prey are seldom taken when rabbits are available, but unlike the Iberian, and to a lesser extent Canadian lynx, populations of Eurasian lynx do not seem to fluctuate with the rabbit population.
The Eurasian lynx has no predators besides man over most of its range, and few serious competitors. Among the few that it does have are the gray wolf, the red fox and the European wildcat. It is considered a threatened or endangered species across much of Europe, but it remains rather common in Russia. Since the Russian forests are believed to hold as much as 90% of the total Eurasian lynx population, it is classified as a near-threatened species. It is rarely tamed and kept as an exotic pet.
Like all lynx, they are very elusive and hard to observe in the wild, though their distinctive appearance makes them hard to mistake for any other cat. In the southern parts of its range, the jungle cat and caracal are occasionally seen. Both cats have tufted ears, very prominently in the case of the caracal, though that is almost the extent of the similarity. The jungle cat is considerably smaller, only about twice the size of a domestic cat, and lacks any kind of barred or spotted markings. The caracal is similar in size to the Eurasian lynx, though it generally appears slimmer due to its short fur, but its uniform rusty or buff color is distinctive. Both similar species have long tails, however.
The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) - not to be confused with the Siberian lynx, which is a subspecies of the Eurasian - is the rarest of all cats. Current estimates hold its total population at less than 300, and possibly as few as 90. They once ranged over most of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, and much of France. Over the last two centuries hunting, habitat destruction and most importantly the sharp decline in the European rabbit population have shrunk their population. As such, the species quite probably faces extinction.
Physically, the Iberian lynx closely resembles its Eurasian counterpart, though they tend to be somewhat smaller. Further, their spotted patterning is much more distinct, rather like that of the cheetah or serval. Also, they tend to inhabit open scrubland, unlike the Eurasian, which prefers forests.
They prey almost exclusively on the European rabbit, with other prey being taken much less often. In recent years, with rabbit populations massively depleted by myxomatosis, they have taken to preying on hares, rats and occasionally larger animals like foxes, deer or mouflons.
Other than the occasional vagrant Eurasian lynx, there are no similar species within the Iberian lynx' range.
The Canadian lynx, Lynx canadensis, also occasionally known as the North American lynx, is native to Canada, Alaska and the northern continental United States. It was originally regarded as a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx, but recent DNA analysis places it firmly in its own species. It is physically distinctive, as well, having dense, silvery-brown fur with white accents. While Canadian lynx kittens have black spotted patterning like the Eurasian and Iberian lynxes, adults hardly ever retain this coloration. It is somewhat smaller than the Eurasian lynx, though it still gets up to around 24kg, especially in the eastern parts of its range.
Their very dense fur makes the facial ruff somewhat less noticeable, as it tends to get lost in the fuzz. They also have furred feet, an adaptation for walking in the deep snow common over much of their range. This adaptation is shared with the Eurasian lynx, but not the Iberian or (generally) the bobcat. Their ear tufts are also frequently more prominent than any of the other lynx. While all lynx have asymmetric legs, the rear being longer than the front, this is most noticeable in the Canadian lynx.
Their prey varies over their range. In western Canada, they prey almost exclusively on the Snowshoe hare, and their numbers fluctuate with the hare population. In the southern and eastern parts of their range, they tend to prefer birds, squirrels, rats and not infrequently larger prey, including caribou and white-tailed deer. This is likely because they are among the largest predators in the eastern part of their range, while in the west, they face extensive competition from the cougar and the gray wolf. The American black bear does occur in the east, as do some packs of wolves, but they don't frequent the same areas as the lynx.
They are very rarely preyed upon by cougars, wolves and brown or black bears, but their only serious threat over most of their range is man, as the majority of would-be predators consider them too large and dangerous to warrant the effort necessary. While the Canadian lynx has been driven out of some of its former range by a combination of hunting and urban development, overall its numbers are considered stable, and it has begun to make a resurgence in the northern USA since the late 1970s. They are occasionally sighted near rural and suburban neighborhoods, though some of these reports may be misidentifications of the more common bobcat. On rare occasion, Canadian lynxes have been tamed and kept as pets. They are not known to have ever attacked people without provocation.
Like their Eurasian kin, they are difficult to observe in the wild, as they are extremely stealthy and tend to avoid human contact. Much of their range is also shared with the bobcat, making positive identification difficult except at close range. Further confounding matters is the fact that the Canadian lynx and bobcat have been known to crossbreed in the wild!
The last species of lynx is the bobcat, Lynx rufus, occasionally known as the Bay Lynx or American Lynx. (The latter synonym is deprecated due to confusion with the Canadian lynx). It is the smallest, most aggressive and most common member of the genus, ranging over most of the USA except for the Midwest, much of southern Canada and northern Mexico, including Baja California. They range from 70 to 100cm in length, and rarely exceed 15kg in weight, making them slightly more than twice the size of a typical domestic cat. They have yellow to brownish fur, with black spots, similar to the Iberian lynx, though on average darker. Northern subspecies often have the silvery-brown fur coloration of the Canadian lynx. They have short fur and usually lack the 'snowshoe' feet of the Canadian or Eurasian lynx, and their ear tufts are the least prominent of all lynx species, going so far as to be virtually absent in some. In general, specimens from the northern part of their range have longer fur, more prominent ear tufts and generally more closely resemble the Canadian lynx, while southern specimens have shorter fur and tufts.
They are surprisingly aggressive hunters, occasionally taking difficult prey such as small dogs, skunks, sheep and rarely even cougar kittens. However, like most lynx, they prefer lagomorphs. The Cottontail rabbit, jackrabbit and snowshoe hare are their most common prey. Gray squirrels, Norway rats and cotton rats are reasonably common prey items, as well. In some cases, bobcats will take white-tailed deer fawns, and rarely even adults, but this is rare.
While bobcats tend to be rather evasive of humans, they have no particular aversion to human habitation, and will hunt in suburban areas. In more wild areas, however, they tend to steer clear of the territories of other predators like wolves, coyotes and foxes. They also assiduously avoid the territories of the two large cat species that overlap their range, the cougar and the jaguar (Panthera onca). Their relationship with similar-sized felines, the Canadian lynx in the north and the jaguarundi (Puma yaguarondi) in the south, is less clear. They are known to frequent the same hunting grounds as the Canadian lynx, and occasionally to even mate with them. Bobcat-jaguarundi interaction is almost entirely unknown.
Bobcats are fairly numerous over much of their range despite some pressure from hunting and trapping, as well as accidental deaths from roadkill or poison, and their numbers are relatively stable. They are rarely preyed upon by cougars and jaguars, and even more rarely by brown bears, and bobcat kittens are occasionally taken by golden eagles. The majority of them dwell in woodland habitats, but they are very adaptable, often living in mountains, swamps and plains, occasionally even city parks. It tends to avoid deep snow and tundra, however.
Like all lynx, bobcats are hard to observe in the wild. In the northern part of their range, the presence of Canadian lynx, and occasional Lynx canadensis × rufus crossbreeds makes identification difficult even when they are seen. Footprints are easily confused with those of other cats, especially large domestics.