Bobcat Population Dynamics, Distribution,
& Landscapte Genetics


William R. Clark, Ph.D. & Todd Gosselink, Ph.D.


Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Bobcat Description, Tracks, & Food Habits

Bobcats are medium-sized carnivores with males (25 pounds) being larger than females (18 pounds), with a total length of head and body of 25-35 inches. The largest bobcat we have recorded in Iowa was 36 pounds. Bobcats get their name from the short “bobbed” tail (5-6 inches), and can be recognized by the facial ruff and short ear tufts (image right - Bobcats have prominent spotting and can be distinguished from domestic cats by the distinctive facial ruff and ear tuffs). Fur color ranges from gray to reddish brown with white on their undersides. Bobcats typically have black spots present on their undersides, although the presence and degree of spotting on the rest of their body is highly variable.

Bobcats are rarely seen because they are active between dusk and dawn, but signs such as tracks are good indicators of their presence. Bobcat tracks are round in shape, measuring approximately 2 inches by 2 inches. Generally, bobcat tracks can be recognized by the shape of the print, the lack of claw marks (because they have retractable claws), toes arranged “in front” of the interdigital Description:“palm” pad, and the “M” shaped palm pad (image left--two lobes on front and three lobes on the rear). Bobcat tracks sometimes are confused with dog or coyote tracks. Dog tracks typically are longer than they are wide, are diamond shaped (with two outside toes “below” the front toes), show claw marks, and have a triangular palm pad (with a single lobe on front and a double lobe on the rear).

We examined the stomach contents of over 150 bobcat carcasses. We found remains of cottontail rabbits (image to right shows rabbit ears) in 60% of the stomachs, mice and voles in about 20%, and fox squirrels in about 15% of stomachs. Juvenile bobcats ate proportionally more mice and voles than adults. Male and female bobcats generally ate the same prey. We found remains of deer in 12 stomachs, primarily those of adult male bobcats, although the small volume of deer remains suggests that much of it was consumed as carrion. About 2% of the stomachs contained birds (turkey, pheasant, hawk, crow and flicker). We also found a few stomachs with remains of muskrat, beaver, and shrew. Although some sportsmen have been worried that bobcats are affecting turkey and pheasant populations in Iowa the very low number of these prey in the stomachs of bobcats does not support that view.

Background | Methods | Description, Tracks, & Food Habits | Habitat Use & Social Structure | Reproduction, Survival, & Dispersal | Statewide Distribution | Population Genetics | Outreach, Collaborators, & Funding |
Report | Bobcat Homepage | Dr. Clark Homepage

Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Updated 08/29/2011