Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bobcat Vs Cougar Identification

For an animal as distinct as a Mountain Lion it can be difficult to identify from a sighting. First realize that when someone gets a glimpse, that's all it is; a glimpse. Since they are shy creatures, they tend to not stick around for a prolonged look. Plus, sightings are usually at a distance, making the size difficult to determine. So I am going to try to help highlight the main features in identification.
1) The Face: Cougars- have a round face, with a wide nose, but short muzzle. They have a dark streak on either side of their muzzle, and white around the mouth.
Bobcats- have a square face, with fringe of fir on the sides of the face. The face has more spots and lines than a cougar.

2) Ears: Cougars- have rounded ears with black behind the ears.
Bobcats- have ears which look pointed because of black ear tufts. The backside is dark, with a white spot.

3) Tail: Cougars- long tail that is almost the length of the body about 30 inches, hanging low to the ground with a curve and black tip.
Bobcats- short stubby tail that is white and black striped. The "Bob"cat is named for the short or "bobbed" tail.
4) Coloration: Cougars- Tawny (light brown) to a darker brown or gray. They have white underbelly. Juveniles will have spots, which will disappear in 1-2 years.
Bobcats- Gray and white, with some brown tints. They have prominent black stripes and spots. Stripes on their legs, and spots on their backs.

5) Size: Cougars- are large cats which males can grow 115-200 lbs, and females 75-150 lbs. Their adult size is 60-76 cm tall, and 5-9 feet from nose to tip of tail.
Bobcats- adult males can be 70–120 cm long with a tail size of 4 inches. Length of a bobcat is between 30-35 inches. Females weigh about 20 lbs.

Juvenile mountain lions can look similar to adult bobcats, except without stripes, short tail, and the facial mane of a bobcat.

Photo References:
References: Cougar photos: TRACE projects, Camera Trap Codger
Bobcat photo: flicker creative commons


pennie said...

I live in Rockbridge county, many stories of cougar sightings. I have a bobcat story.My husband and I have seen a bobcat 20 yards in our yard. This cat was all of 45 pounds. It was as big as our neighbors golden retriever. It was not the least bit bothered by us. It was lying on the edge of our pond at dusk a few ago. I called our neighbors to come look at it, as I could not get a look at the tail to identify it. They drove a mile and a half to our house, turned the car toward the cat 920 yards a way) and shined the headlights on it. About 30 seconds later it stood up and casually strolled over the embankment on the other side of the pond. They saw the bobbed tail and they thought the cat was around 50 pounds. I am being more conservative. We are all outdoor people, hikers and hunters. I had no idea a bobcat could get that big.
The next day I called the Wildlife commission. A biologist that I spoke with actually told us to shoot it if we saw it again! He said the behavior was odd and the animal most likely was diseased..perhaps distemper.
We have not seen it since ,and would not shoot it. It was beautiful.
I got a wildlife camera for Christmas. It is IR. I am hoping to get a picture but I doubt I will.
We had 2 inches of snow yesterday and I found some tracks that measured almost 4 inches across, but there were this just a huge dog? I first thought it was a bear, but the shape is all wrong. I did take some pictures. We do not have a dog that big in this area, unless it is a wild dog. The tracks were on a deer trail.

- clark - said...

That is a unique bobcat story. Usually they are shy creatures, and will not stay in the open for long, but it may not have had a problem, as bobcats display little fear of people. Bobcats can be very large, usually about 3 times the size of a housecat. I'm glad you share my sentiment about leaving nature to its own, and I wouldn't have shot it either. It is important to be aware of its behavior if you see it again though. Was it acting weird as if sick or was that the biologist's opinion. I have seen an animal with distemper, and it can hardly stand, move, or walk. As for the tracks, they can be very difficult to decern sometimes. A track that large is not bobcat, and would have to be large. A cougar's foot is that large, but the nails shouldn't show. Try goggling a comparison of cougar and canine tracks. You can also shoot me an email with the photos to Good luck with the camera!

pennie said...

Sent you an e mail. Thanks for the post. Be glad to sent you pictures of the prints. Excited about the camera. If we get some good pictures I surely send you them.
Keep you posted. We have heard our bobcat in the early a.m. He makes quite a racket just before sun up. He, apparently, lives here.
We also have several bears, turkeys, and a white dear. He was born a year ago. White w/ brown spots above his shoulders.I first thought he was goat.We have watched him grow into a beautiful buck. This year he got his antlers, six points!
I expect someone will shoot him soon. He has made himself known.
He was living around the house . However, seems to have moved closer to the road. Lots of sightings by other people.I have some good pictures of him. I will send them your way if you would like to get a look at them.

- clark - said...

I have yet to receive your email. Try to send it again to
maybe you got a letter wrong. Looking forwards to the photos.