International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Caturday Feature: Canada Lynx

Canada Lynx are the most common and widespread feline in Canada. They are easily recognizable cats with their black ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and very short tail. They can only be confused with the closely related Bobcat Lynx rufus in the southern part of their range. A closer look, however, reveals a number of differences. The Lynx has longer legs and broader footpads for walking in deep snow. Their ear tufts are longer, and the facial ruff is more developed. Their tail has a black tip, while the Bobcat’s is more striped and white underneath. These two cat species seem to have divided the continent up between them, with the Bobcat being limited by snow depth to southern Canada through to Central Mexico, and the Canada Lynx in the northern forests.

The usual background colour of the fur is a silvery grey or grey brown, but can vary to yellowish‑grey and rusty or reddish‑brown. The fur is usually white tipped, giving the animal a frosted appearance. Their thick, soft pelt can be variably marked with more or less distinct dark spots, and sometimes small stripes. A rare pallid colour phase suggesting partial albinism is known as the ‘Blue Lynx’. There is a distinct ruff of long hairs framing the face; the ears are large and pointed with irises of a yellow brown to a light yellowish‑green. The legs are long, with the rear limbs longer than the front ones, giving the body a tilted forward or slightly stooped appearance. The footpads are broad and well furred, and the tail is very short and black tipped.

The ears have long, erect tufts of dark hairs, and black backsides towards the tip. These tufts are just as sensitive as their whiskers, and the slightest breath of wind can be detected by the cat.

Distribution

Canada Lynx live mainly in boreal forests or in mixed deciduous/boreal woodlands, but can live in farmlands if they are interspersed with wooded areas. They favour forests with dense undercover vegetation such as thickets and deadfalls, with marshy areas and rocky outcrops.

Their total range in North America is 7.7 million km2, and their historic range is largely intact, although it has shrunk in the south due to human settlement and forest clearance.

Their range follows that of their main prey species, the snowshoe hare. The Canada Lynx is the only known felid to undergo prey-driven cyclic population declines. Densities peak at 17-45/100 km2, falling to 2-3/100 km2 during the low cycle.

Lynx have been recorded travelling long distances, up to 1,200 km, seeking out patches of hare abundance. A study in the Yukon found home ranges increased from 13.2 km2 to 39 km2 when the hare population was low. Several cats abandoned their home ranges during this period, and many dispersed 250 km or more.

Ecology

Over two hundred years of records from the Hudson’s Bay fur company show that the Lynx population fluctuates in an eight to 11 year cycle, in response to fluctuations in the numbers of the snowshoe hare. Hares breed profusely through several summers when food is plentiful, and may reach 1,800/km2 at the peak of the cycle. Overpopulation means they eventually wipe out their food supply and their numbers plummet. Lynx populations follow the hare cycle with a lag of one or two years.

Lynx favour mid-sized prey in order to compensate for the immense amount of energy expended to catch it. Other prey species may be taken opportunistically, or when hare numbers are low. It takes 50 voles to equal the food energy from one snowshoe hare, however, and the voles live beneath the snow cover in the winter. Hares are active year round.

Lynx are mainly terrestrial and nocturnal, although they may also hunt during the day if prey is scarce. Lynx are thought to hunt mainly by sight and hearing, relying on smell to a lesser extent. They usually stalk their prey to within a few bounds before pouncing, but they are also known to wait in ambush for hours.

Although classed as solitary animals, researchers often see groups of paired females. Female kittens establish home ranges close to that of their mothers, and travel and hunt co‑operatively.

Reproduction

Mating occurs in late winter to early spring in most areas (March ‑ April in Alaska, April ‑ May in Alberta). The female mates with only one male, and the receptive period can last from one to ten days. Mating usually takes place at night, and the males are especially vocal at this time. Dens can be made in hollow logs, at the base of trees, in rocky areas or in dense vegetation. One to six kittens are born after a gestation period of 63 ‑70 days. In years of low prey availability, females may not conceive at all, or may spontaneously abort in response to the body’s poor nutritional condition. Lynx kittens average 197 ‑211 grams at birth. Their eyes open between ten and 17 days, and they begin to walk at 24 ‑30 days. The kittens nurse for three to five months, but begin to eat some solid food at one month of age. The young remain with the adult female until the following winter mating season. Young lynx may remain together for some weeks or months after separating from the female, travelling and hunting co‑operatively. Sexual maturity is reached around 23 months, although in periods of prey abundance, sexual maturity at ten months has been recorded. Captive Canada Lynx have lived up to 21 years, and life expectancy for wild animals has been recorded at 15 years.

Conservation

Throughout Alaska and most of Canada, the Lynx is managed for the fur trade. During the cyclic low in the 1980’s most areas reduced harvests. From 1980-1984 an average of 35,669 pelts were exported from Canada and Alaska. That number fell to 7,360between 1986-1989. The population is considered stable in the northern portion of their range. Canada Lynx are rare and protected where they occur in south-eastern Canada. They are classed as regionally endangered in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where researchers have reported fertile hybrids between Canada Lynx and the Bobcat. The primary threat to the cats in these areas is the expanding population of the eastern coyote.

A project in the Adirondack Mountains of New York in 1989-1992 saw the reintroduction of 83 Lynx, but the population did not prove to be self sustaining. Thirty-six of the Lynx were killed by automobiles, and it is doubtful any of the cats survived

From 1999 onwards, 204 Lynx from Canada and Alaska were relocated into the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado. This population has become well established, and researchers are reporting increasing numbers of kittens born each year.

As a species, Canada Lynx are classified as Least Concern (2008).

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