There are only two officially recognized bobcat subspecies. Bobcats are versatile ambush hunters with a huge range across North America. People always separated bobcats into different types (proposed subspecies) based on small differences from one area to another.
Bobcats are successful as a species and have stable populations across North America.
Because of this, small physical or genetic differences are found between bobcats from different regions.
Bobcat types can be divided into two main categories:
- Recognized types of bobcats
- Unrecognized types of bobcats
In this article, we’ll talk about whether there are any real differences between types of bobcats.
1. Recognized Types of Bobcats
There are only two officially recognized bobcat subspecies today. These are the eastern and western bobcats, also known as Lynx rufus rufus and Lynx rufus fasciatus.
There are only two recognized subspecies of the bobcat. These subspecies are the eastern and the western bobcat.
They are geographically divided by the Great Plains.
Lynx Rufus Rufus
The eastern bobcats are found across the Eastern US and Canada and in the midwest.
This subspecies population was greatly diminished by humans, who hunted it intensely across the east coast. Bounties were placed on bobcats across the eastern states. Like other predators they were considered pests.
Lynx Rufus Fasciatus
The western bobcats are found all throughout Western North America. West coast bobcats have also been affected by intensive hunting.
Populations of western bobcats are stable, and recently trophy hunting was banned in states like California.
Why Are There More Subspecies?
Researchers’ consensus is that bobcat populations diverged during the Pleistocene epoch, also known as the Ice Age. During this epoch, there were many “glacial periods”. During each glacial period, the earth cooled down and glaciers extended south.
The glacier expansion split up the bobcat population between east and west. This happened because the area that is now the Great Plains was barren tundra or covered in ice sheets.
This environment wasn’t a good habitat for bobcats so they didn’t cross it.
Over the last thousands of years (since the last ice age) the western and eastern bobcat populations have started mixing.
They now live together, especially around the midwest, and are interbreeding.
2. Unrecognized Types of Bobcats
Besides the recognized subspecies, there are also ten others that have been proposed over the years. These proposed bobcats are not actually subspecies because the differences between them are insignificant.
The unrecognized subspecies are similar to one another, which is why they are not occial subspecies.
The differences between them are minor and can be attributed to geographical adaptations.
Today most of the older proposed subspecies are either classified as western or eastern bobcats.
But, there remain two outliers: the Mexican bobcats.
Here’s an overview of the proposed subspecies:
- Lynx rufus floridianus
- Lynx rufus gigas
- Lynx rufus superiorensis
- Lynx rufus baileyi
- Lynx rufus texensis
- Lynx rufus eremicus/californicus
- Lynx rufus peninsularis
- Lynx rufus pallescens
- Lynx rufus escuinapae
- Lynx rufus oaxacensis
1. Lynx Rufus Floridianus
This subspecies was proposed by the french polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1817. This subspecies is said to have a grey coat with yellowish to brown spots.
As the name suggests, it is found around the state of Florida and the southeastern US. It is the smallest of the proposed eastern subspecies.
2. Lynx Rufus Gigas
The gigas subspecies was proposed in 1897 by the American zoologist Outram Bangs. This proposal was based on an individual shot in Nova Scotia.
It lives in Maine and southeastern Canada and has grown larger due to its northern range.
3. Lynx Rufus Superiorensis
Lynx rufus superiorensis is the last of the proposed eastern subspecies. Peterson and Downing proposed this in 1952, based on a specimen found in Ontario, Canada.
Its suggested distribution ranged throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, S. Ontario, and SE. Manitoba.
Like the gigas subspecies, this bobcat is bigger because it’s further north.
4. Lynx Rufus Baileyi
The baielyi subspecies was proposed by a zoologist named Clinton Hart Merriam in 1890. The proposal was based on a female individual from around Moccasin Spring, Arizona.
Its proposed distribution is from the arid regions of southwestern California to western Texas and Utah, and as far south as Durango in Mexico.
5. Lynx Rufus Texensis
The texensis subspecies was proposed in 1895 by the zoologist Joel Asaph Allen as a replacement for the Mexican Lynx rufus var. maculatus proposed by Bachman in 1851.
These bobcats roam from western Louisiana to eastern Texas and northeastern New Mexico.
6. Lynx Rufus Eremicus or Californicus
Californicus was proposed by Edgar Alexander Mearns in 1898 based on two individuals found close to San Diego, California.
Its speculated range is from southern and central California to Nevada.
7. Lynx Rufus Peninsularis
The peninsularis subspecies was proposed in 1898 by the British zoologist Oldfield Thomas.
This proposal is based on an individual with a pale reddish coat found on the Baja California Peninsula. This is also where the subspecies lives.
8. Lynx Rufus Pallescens
Pallescens is a subspecies proposed by Clinton Merriam in 1899, based on an individual found near Trout Lake in Washington state. These bobcats have a greyish coat that helps them blend into their environments.
They live throughout the Rocky Mountains, from British Columbia, down to New Mexico.
9. Lynx Rufus Escuinapae
This is the first of the two proposed southern or Mexican bobcat subspecies. It was proposed in 1903 by Joel Allen, based on a bobcat from the central state of Sinaloa in Mexico. Escuinapae bobcats have pale reddish fur.
Its range is central Mexico but it extends north along the western coast to Sonora.
10. Lynx Rufus Oaxacensis
Oaxacensis is the southernmost living population of bobcats. It was proposed by George Godwin in 1963 based on three individuals found in the state of Oaxaca.
This subspecies is distributed throughout southern Mexico, especially in the highlands of Oaxaca. No bobcats were spotted east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Eastern, Western and Southern Bobcats
Most of the old proposed subspecies are now classified as part of eastern or western bobcats. The southern or Mexican bobcats are still being debated, and more research is needed.
The old proposed subspecies of bobcats are now mostly grouped under the eastern and western subspecies:
- The eastern subspecies include the outdated floridianus, gigas, and superiorensis varieties.
- The western subspecies include baileyi, texensis, californicus, peninsularis, and pallescens which have similar genetics.
The situation with the proposed Mexican subspecies isn’t as clear. The two subspecies, escuinapae and oaxacensis is still debated and more sampling is needed.
As of 2017 the International Union for Conservation of Nature only recognizes Lynx rufus rufus and Lynx rufus fasciatus.
Bobcats are diverse animals, that live across a multitude of habitats in North America. Their diversity encouraged scientists to classify them into many subspecies based on appearance and region.
Today, there are only two officially recognized subspecies: western and eastern bobcat (Lynx rufus fasciatus and Lynx rufus rufus).
There also exist two southern or Mexican populations that need to be studied to find out if they are different enough to be considered their own subspecies.
Are Bobcat and Lynx the Same Species?
No, bobcat and lynx are different species. Although bobcats are part of the lynx genus so technically they are a type of lynx.
What Are Bobcats Named?
Bobcats’ scientific name is Lynx rufus but they are known by many names across their vast range. They are also called red lynx, wildcat, lynx cat, and many others.
Are Bobcats an Endangered Species?
No, bobcats are listed as a species of least concern. They are not at high risk of extinction.