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Do Bobcats Have Tails & Can They be Long?

Yes, bobcats do have tails. Bobcats are named after their characteristically short and stubby tails. The “bobbed” aspect of the tail is what makes them bobcats. They share this distinct tail with lynxes.

Bobcats have some of the shortest tails relative to the body size of all felines. Only lynxes and some breeds of domestic cats have shorter tails.

But how do their tails really look and what are they used for? 

In this article, you’ll learn all about bobcat tails.

Bobcat Tails

Bobcat tails are some of the most recognizable in the animal kingdom. The short, stubby, and furry tails make bobcats stand out amongst other felines. Thanks to their tails they are only mistaken for the lynx, to which they are closely related.

Bobcats have short and stubby tails covered in colorful fur. This kind of “bobbed” tail is only found in a few other felines, such as the lynx and some domestic cat breeds.

The usefulness of a short tail is still debated by wildlife researchers. There are several theories about why bobcats and lynxes have their distinctive short tails. 

The short tail isn’t a recent adaptation of the lynx genus, of which bobcats are members. Lynxes benefit from a surprisingly good fossil record, so we know that they have had their “bobbed” tails as far back as four million years ago.[1]

Do Bobcats Have Tails

What Do Bobcat Tails Look Like?

Bobcats’ tails are distinct, short, and furry with a black tip and stripes on their upper side. They have no pattern on the underside. The tails don’t get longer than eight inches, making bobcats distinguishable from other cats.

Bobcats have unique-looking tails. This makes it easy to identify them, even at close range. 

The tails are also used to distinguish bobcats from lynxes, even if they are similar in size. The markings on the tails are also different from other cats.[2]

Bobcats’ tails are split into two sides. 

On the top side, bobcats have a distinct black stripes pattern, showing their normal coat color in between. The top half of the tip is also black. 

The bottom side of the tail is white without a pattern, like the fur on their abdomen.

What Do Bobcat Tails Look Like

How Long Are Bobcat Tails?

Bobcat tails range between three and a half to eight inches long. They are considered short for a feline compared to their body size, a distinct characteristic of their genus, Lynx.

Bobcats have short tails when compared to other felines. Their tails range from three and a half to five inches which gives them their stubby look. 

While bobcats are twice the size of domestic cats but the latter regularly have tails over nine or ten inches in length.

The proportionally shorter tails compared to body size is a distinct aspect of the Lynx genus. All members of the lynx genus have smaller and fewer caudal vertebrae than other cats.[3]

They have had this shortened tail for millions of years, so it certainly doesn’t hinder their activities.

Why Do Bobcats Have Short Tails?

Bobcats have short tails because of evolution. There is no consensus about the reason for the short tail among scientists though. It can be either an evolutionary response to the need of the animal, or a random mutation that doesn’t affect them negatively.

Animals generally use their tails when hunting, climbing, and running. Tails help with balance when moving across tight spaces, such as branches and rocky peaks, or when running.

Tails usually serve as a counterweight, allowing an animal to move across the environment easier, increasing agility, and allowing it to run faster.

Bobcats and their whole genus don’t have the normal long cat-like tails. Their tails are short and stubby, different from their feline relatives. 

There is no clear answer about why they have short tails, but there are a couple of theories:

  1. As an adaptation to ambush hunting.
  2. As a side effect of another change.
  3. Other possible reasons.

1. As an Adaptation to Ambush Hunting

Bobcat Adaptation to Ambush Hunting

Bobcats are predators, and their go-to way of catching prey is ambush hunting. 

Ambush predators wait in a hiding spot until prey gets close enough that they can pounce on it, killing as efficiently as possible.

Other felines, like the cheetah, chase their prey over short distances using their speed to their advantage. They use their tail to help them turn faster. 

Leopards also ambush their prey, but they usually do so from trees, climbing back up with the kills. Their tails help them balance while climbing.

This theory suggests bobcats and the other members of the Lynx genus don’t need the longer tails, so they lost them with time. Thanks to their preference for ground-based ambush hunting, they don’t need the added balance a longer tail could offer.

This theory has one main problem. Other ground-based ambush hunters have long tails. 

Tigers, jaguars, and cougars all have similar hunting behavior. They get as close before springing an attack, trying to chase prey as little as possible, and their long tails don’t get in the way.

2. As a Side Effect of Another Change

Bobcat Short Tail As a Side Effect of Another Change
Image Source

The short tail can be a result of an ancient mutation or a side effect of another part of a bobcat’s anatomy.

The first suggestion is that an ancestor of modern bobcats and lynxes suffered a mutation that shortened their tales. If this mutation didn’t negatively affect their survival abilities, there was no evolutionary incentive to grow long tails again.

Another proposal puts forward the possibility that shorter tails are a result of another change in their anatomy.  

Bobcats and lynxes have longer and stronger back legs that allow them to spring suddenly towards prey. This can under certain circumstances result in additional changes, such as a shortened tail. 

While the ancient “Lynx issiodorensis” was different from modern lynxes and bobcats, lacking longer back legs, it already had a short tail as far back as four million years ago.[4]

3. Other Possible Reasons

Bobcat Short Tail
Image Source

There are some other unlikely ideas about why bobcats and lynxes have shorter tails. Here are two of them:


Thermoregulation refers to the ability to manage body heat. This suggests that a smaller body area would help with keeping warm in cold environments. 

This isn’t likely as an ancient member of the Lynx genus already had the shortened tail millions of years ago.

Adaptation to getting caught by the tail

This suggests the bobcats’ ancestors were getting caught by the tail, so it got shorter because of evolutionary pressure.

Bobcats vs. Lynxes Tails

Bobcats and lynxes are similar, as they are closely related. Both of their tails are short and stubby, but there are differences in the markings found on them. Up close, their tails are a good way to tell the difference.

Bobcats and lynxes are closely related, they are part of the same genus and share many characteristics. 

One of the ways to tell the difference between them is by looking at their tails.

Here’s an overview of bobcat and lynx tails:

TraitBobcatCanada LynxIberian LynxEurasian Lynx
Body Length33 inches36 inches38 inches40 inches
Tail Length3.5-7.9 inches1-5.1 inches4.9-6.3 inches4.3-9.6 inches
Tail AspectStripes and black tip on the top side, completely white underneath.Short, fluffy with a black tip.Spots on the top side, white underneath, black tip.Sometimes white underneath, black tip

Bobcats have longer tails relative to body length, and their tail markings are also distinct being the only ones with stripes.


Bobcats have tails that are short and stubby or “bobbed” which is where they get their name from. Their tails are unique in the feline family and can be distinguished even from their cousins the lynxes. They have tail markings, black stripes, and a black tip on the top side, and are completely white below.


Can Bobcats Have Long Tails?

No, bobcats never have long tails. They are always short and bobbed, hence the name bobcat.

Can Bobcats Wag Their Tails?

Yes, bobcats can wag their tails, but like domestic cats, it doesn’t mean they are happy. It often means they are annoyed or curious.

What Looks Like a Bobcat but Has a Long Tail?

Many felines are mistaken for a “long-tailed bobcat”. A mountain lion, although much larger could be the answer in the wild. Closer to human environments that “bobcat” can even be a domestic cat, like a Maine Coon with a tabby coat.

About Codrin Frunzete

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