In the Nature column: Bobcats are Indiana’s seldom-seen residents | columns

Most Hoosiers have likely seen most of the mammals native to Indiana—raccoons, possums, squirrels, marmots, foxes, and coyotes—but there’s one mammal Indiana residents have likely never seen in the wild: the bobcat.

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, these cats are found in almost every county in the state, but their presence is usually only confirmed by wildlife cameras.

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a medium-sized cat, measuring 30 to 50 inches in length, two feet in height, and weighing between 15 and 30 pounds. Red-brown bobcats with white underbelly have short tails (about six inches) and black markings throughout the coat and on the inside of the legs. This coloration provides excellent camouflage, allowing it to track prey and stay out of human sight.

Bobcats are generally most active at night and can move virtually silently throughout their range. South and west-central Indiana are the most common areas of the state where bobcats are found. Male cats can maintain a home range of 30 to 75 square miles, but have been known to stray as much as 100 miles from their birthplace.

Females typically have a range of six to 12 square miles. Wooded or scrub-filled areas are the preferred habitat for bobcats. Outside of Indiana, bobcats live in the United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico, except for the metropolitan area along the US East Coast between Washington DC and Boston.

Bobcats are usually solitary and can breed year-round, but often mate in winter and early spring (February to March). Females produce litters of two to four kittens after a gestation period of two months. Kittens are usually born in secluded areas such as small burrows, rocky outcrops, or hollow logs. The females raise their young alone.

Kittens become active explorers by four weeks and are weaned by two months. Within three to five months, kittens roam freely with their mother and begin to hunt for themselves. In the fall, kittens usually disperse and venture out on their own, while some bobcats stay with their mother for up to a year.

Bobcats track their prey, use their camouflage and stealthy maneuvering, and eat a wide variety of animals. In Indiana, bobcats eat mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits, muskrats, waterfowl, and even fawns of white-tailed deer. When food is scarce, bobcats will hunt larger prey such as foxes, skunks, raccoons, and sometimes livestock such as poultry, pigs, sheep, and goats.

Bobcats have few predators in Indiana, but wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions prey on adult bobcats in the rest of North America. Eagles, owls, bears and alligators have been known to eat bobcat kittens.

Although you will likely never see a bobcat in the wild, they are certainly an important part of Indiana’s ecosystems.

Keep an eye out for these elusive cats; You might be lucky and spot one.

Eliot Reed, a native of Anderson, is the owner of Park Place Arts, a custom framing shop and art gallery in Anderson. He is the founding director of the Heart of the River Coalition.

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