Colorado
© Mike Norton (Colorado)

Lynx

Overview

The lynx is a large cat, averaging about 3 feet in length, and roughly 20-30 pounds. It has a grizzled grey coat, which may be vaguely spotted, very large feet, a very short tail, and prominent ear tufts. The lynx is often confused with its more common relative, the bobcat, but bobcats are smaller, redder, and more conspicuously spotted. Bobcats also lack the large feet and ear tufts that are distinguishing features of the lynx. Lynx are usually solitary, nocturnal (active at night) animals, but they are able to remain active year-round due to their large feet, which help them move easily across snow.

Habitat

The lynx is a species of northern coniferous forests. It prefers areas where snowshoe hare (its primary prey) are abundant. Across its North American range, these areas may be characterized by forests with a mix of younger and older trees, relatively open canopies, and plenty of understory shrubs and groundcovers, as well as dense spruce-fir forests with associated rock outcrops, and willow thickets along streams.

Conservation Status

The lynx is apparently still widespread and relatively abundant in most of its historic range in the northern part of North America. However, overall range and population size in the contiguous U.S. states are substantially reduced from historic levels. Causes of population declines include over-harvest during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as forest management practices that have reduced suitability of habitat, including fragmentation, roads, recreational developments (ski areas), altered fire frequencies, and increasing human access. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed a distinct population segment of lynx in the contiguous U.S. as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and designated critical habitat in Minnesota, Montana, and Washington. In 1999, the Colorado Division of Wildlife began a restoration program, which has released over 200 lynx in the mountains of southwestern Colorado. Successful reproduction was documented in 2003 – 2006, but no dens with kittens were found in 2007 (possibly due to reduced snowshoe hare populations).

Range

North America and Eurasia. Current U.S. distribution: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming. Also occurs in Canadian Provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Labrador, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon Territory. Former U.S. and Canadian range where species no longer occurs: Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Prince Edward Island.

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