by Kyle Sweet, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist
Possibly one of the most elusive and interesting wild creatures on the islands is the Bobcat. Getting it’s name from it’ seemingly “bobbed” tail, the bobcat is much smaller than another elusive Florida wildcat, the Florida Panther. The Bobcat is much more likely to be seen as there are only between 200-300 panthers remaining in the state of Florida vs. thousands of Bobcats.
A male bobcat weighs 20-30 pounds and is about twice the size of a domestic cat, with long legs, large paws the characteristic short tail. The coat of the bobcat ranges from gray to reddish –brown, often with obvious spots of brown or black. Tufted, triangular shaped ears and tufts around its face are also distinct characteristics of the bobcat.
Like a house cat, the bobcat has retractable claws and paw prints left by the bobcat will show the pads of the foot, but no nails present. Another similar sized mammal on the island, the coyote, with have similar sized paw prints but the toenails of the coyote will be present.
The bobcat is a solitary animal. The females territory can cover up to six square miles, while the male bobcats territory can cover up to 30 square miles. Needless to say, the population of bobcats on Sanibel will not be in great numbers due to the size of island. He amount of area needed to hunt and survive will surely limit populations and keep the bobcat a very illusive animal. Although not large in land area, the nearly 70% of Sanibel that remains in preserved lands provides excellent habitat for the bobcat. When building a den, the bobcat prefers large hollow logs, tree hollows and caves. The natural, undisturbed wooded lands of the island certainly provide ample habitat for them.
Female bobcats can have their young at nearly anytime of the year in the south and the males may sire several litters at a time. Young bobcats begin to be taught to hunt for food at five to six months old and by a year old are completely abandoned by their mother and must fend for themselves. Females are capable of reproduction at twelve months old whereas males reach sexual maturity at two years old.
Not surprising , they are nocturnal hunters, but it’s not unusual to spot them a dawn or dusk. They have a wide variety of prey including rats, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, iguanas and even small alligators. Bobcats are efficient at both swimming and climbing trees, which makes them efficient apex hunters of the barrier islands.
Bobcats have always been found all throughout North America, but due to the value of their fur, their populations began to decline in the mid 1900’s. In the 70’s, laws were put into place to protect the world’s wildcats and thankfully that helped to protect the bobcat and many others. Today, the bobcat holds a healthy population throughout the state of Florida and is listed as a fur-bearing game animal that can be hunted during certain months of the year.
On occasion, the siting of a bobcat on Sanibel or Captiva will be reported as a Panther siting. Discussion with officers at the J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge as well as with the City of Sanibel Natural Resource Department assures us that Florida Panthers are not present on the islands of Sanibel or Captiva. Differences between the two are plentiful but the biggest differences are….
The adult panther can weigh up to 130 pounds, at least 4 X the weight and size of the bobcat
The panther has a long tail, at least half the size of its body length. The bobcat tail is not nearly as long and sometimes can barely be present at all.
The panther is usually yellowish or tan in color and lacks the spots and irregular colorations that are typical for the bobcat.
Truly enjoy the opportunity If you are fortunate to see a bobcat on the islands. Other than the occasional sighting in the early morning crossing the road, the photograph you see here was only the 3rd time in 25 years of seeing a bobcat out roaming the course. Without a doubt, this bobcat was very aware that I was there but I was some distance away. As always, please enjoy the local wildlife from a distance. A good camera lens or spotting scope will add to the enjoyment of finding and viewing our incredibly diverse island wildlife. The Bobcat is a special one and time around our preserves and the refuge might just provide a glimpse of this illusive wildcat. Good luck!