Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's a panther, right?

This big cat, photographed recently in the backyard of Micky Wright’s Mote Ranch home, is a panther, right? Wrong, say state wildlife officials. The pointed ears, white spots on the ears and less than panther-sized tail give it away as a bobcat.

For more, see below what Gary Morse of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had to say about telling the difference this week.

There are several clues that positively identify this cat species. The white ear patches on the backside of the ears, the black trim on the edge of the ear with pointed tips, along with the short tail are unmistakably, Florida bobcat. Typically, bobcats have a tail that reaches about half way to the hock, just like this one in the photo. The body type, tall and lanky is typical of wild bobcats in peninsular Florida. The size of the animal is also typical of Lynx rufus in Florida.

On the other hand, a panther’s tail is typically three-quarters the length of the body, with a strong thick base at the spine. The tail can reach to the ground and then some. Panthers have no ear markings. While very young panthers have some spots, they have a much longer tail and lack the white patches and black ear trimmings.

Pictures of bobcats on the Internet often look different than the wild bobcats we see in peninsular Florida, and for good reason – they’re well fed and not from Florida. However, a captive Florida bobcat that’s well fed and groomed, looks like that too. Wild bobcats pictured on the internet are mostly northern bobcats that have a need to store up energy for a hard winter. That survival strategy – storing fat, is a liability in the hot weather we have here in Florida. As a result, our wild bobcats are fast, lean machines.

Bobcats do quite well in neighborhood settings, eating squirrels, lizards, birds, and a variety of small mammals that make the suburbs home. Though generally secretive, if you live in a neighborhood on the edge of a forested area or park, you might be lucky enough to see a bobcat. We regularly get such reports from wildlife lovers from Brooksville to Venice wondering if a panther has visited their neighborhood. In almost every case, the reports that have accompanying photos show a bobcat strolling leisurely through a backyard setting.

Bobcats pose little threat to humans of any size and attacks are extremely rare. The only bobcat attacks against humans, in Florida have come from rabid felines. Rabies is not known to be prevalent in bobcats.

From my experience caring for both bobcats and panthers over the past 25 years, I can tell you bobcats are fascinating creatures. At the 2008 Florida State Fair we featured at our educational display, a live (hand raised) bobcat appropriately named … Bob. What ham and showoff! He was a heck of lot of fun to watch.

If you or your readers have any further questions about Florida’s wildlife, as always, don’t hesitate to shout.

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