Wild Cats of North America – List With Pictures & Facts

There are six species of wild cats native to North America: the bobcat, puma (also known as the mountain lion or cougar), Canada lynx, ocelot, jaguarundi and jaguar.

Also present in North America is the domestic cat Felis catus. Therefore the continent is home to seven of the 41 currently-recognized cat species.

Wild Cats Of North America List

Continue reading for information, pictures, facts and statistics on each of the wild cats of North America (or click on a species name in the list above to go straight to the information about that cat).


About North American Wild Cats

Cats are mammals in the family Felidae, which is part of the order Carnivora. Other families in Carnivora include the dog family Canidae and the bear family Ursidae.

All members of Carnivora share a common ancestor, which is thought to be a small, weasel-like species that lived around 55 million years ago.

Cats are skilful ambush hunters that approach their prey stealthily before pouncing. Cats have retractable claws and are excellent climbers and jumpers. They often lead nocturnal, solitary lifestyles.

Of the six species of wild cats found in North America, only the jaguar is of genus Panthera, and therefore considered to be a ‘big cat’.

Although the puma (also known as the mountain lion or cougar) is the world’s fourth-largest cat species (and larger, on average, than the leopard, a ‘true’ big cat), it is considered to be a ‘small cat’ as it a member of the small cat subfamily, Felinae.

Of the six North American cats listed below, only the bobcat, puma, and Canada lynx are found in significant numbers in the United States and Canada.


Bobcat

Bobcat

  • Scientific name: Lynx rufus
  • Number of subspecies: 2
  • Maximum weight male: 40.3 lb / 18.3 kg ; female: 33.7 lb / 15.3 kg
  • Where found: southern Canada, United States, Mexico
  • Typical habitat: boreal forest, mixed forest, scrubland, grassland, desert
  • Conservation status: Least Concern
  • Population trend: Stable

The bobcat is a mid-sized wild cat found throughout the United States and Mexico, and also in southern Canada. It is one of two species in the genus Lynx found in North America, the other being the Canada lynx (see below). The other two lynx species–the Eurasian lynx and Iberian lynx–are both found in Europe.

With an estimated population of around 2.3 to 3.5 million in the United States alone, bobcats are the most common wild cats of North America.

The bobcat is named after the short, ‘bobbed’ appearance of its tail. Like other lynxes, it has tufted ears and a thick, furry ruff under its cheeks. On the back of each ear is a white spot, which may help kittens to locate their mother at dusk.

This North American wild cat is around twice the size of a domestic cat, and, on average, slightly smaller than the Canada lynx (although its maximum size is similar, if not slightly larger). Bobcats found in the northern part of the species’ range tend to be larger than those in the south.

Compared to its close relative the Canada lynx, the bobcat has shorter ear tufts, shorter legs and a longer tail. Whereas the tail of the Canada lynx is all-black, that of the bobcat has black bars and is white on the bottom.

The bobcat’s coat is spotted and variable in color, ranging from an orange-red to a dark gray. Bobcats are generally more colorful than Canada lynxes.

The bobcat is an excellent climber and sprinter, capable of reaching speeds of up to 30mph (48.3 km/h). It preys on a variety of small and medium-small vertebrates, with cottontails being the species’ most common prey.

  • You can find out more about the bobcat on this page: Bobcat Facts

Canada Lynx

Canada Lynx Wild Cats Of North America

  • Scientific name: Lynx canadensis
  • Number of subspecies: 1
  • Maximum weight male: 37.5 lb / 17 kg ; female: 26.5 lb / 12 kg
  • Where found: Canada, Alaska and northern contiguous United States
  • Typical habitat: boreal forest
  • Conservation status: Least Concern
  • Population trend: Stable

Like the bobcat, the Canada lynx is a member of the genus lynx. Both of the North American lynxes are thought to have evolved from Eurasian lynxes that arrived in the continent from Europe via the Bering Land Bridge.

Snow covers the ground for much of the year in the cold boreal forests of Alaska and Canada in which the Canada lynx is found. The species has a number of adaptions for living in this harsh environment. These include long legs and broad paws for walking across snow.

The Canada lynx’s paws are covered in thick hair for insulation, and can spread up to 3.9 in (10 cm) wide to prevent the cat from sinking into the snow.

The coat of the Canada lynx is pale grey-brown in color, and lacks the prominent spots seen on the bobcat.

The main prey of the Canada lynx is the snowshoe hare. This fast-moving animal makes up between 60 and 97% of the cat’s diet.

The populations of the two animals are linked in a predator/prey relationship; when snowshoe hares are plentiful, Canada lynxes are more likely to breed and therefore their population rises. When snowshoe hares are scarce, the lynx population declines.


Puma

puma in snow

  • Scientific name: Puma concolor
  • Number of subspecies: 2
  • Maximum weight male: 220.4 lb / 100 kg ; female: 141.1 lb / 64 kg
  • Where found: North America; South America
  • Typical habitat: forest; grassland
  • Conservation status: Least Concern
  • Population trend: Decreasing

Despite being the world’s fourth-largest species of cat, the puma (also known as the mountain lion, or cougar) is not considered a ‘true’ big cat as it is not a member of the genus Panthera.

The puma is the second-largest wild cat of North America; only the jaguar (which is usually found in South America) is larger.

The range of the puma is the largest of any North America wild cat, stretching from Yukon in Canada south to southern Chile. This adaptable species inhabits a wide range of habitats, including forests, grasslands and deserts.

The puma’s closest relation in the Americas is the jaguarundi (see below). Both species are related to the cheetah.

The puma can be recognized by its large size, relatively small head, rounded ears, and short, unmarked coat. The coat ranges in color from dark brown to gray. The tail can be up to 37 in (95 cm) long and has a black tip.

  • You can find out more about the puma on this page: Puma Facts

Ocelot

  • Scientific name: Leopardus pardalis
  • Number of subspecies: 2
  • Maximum weight male: 34.1 lb / 15.5 kg ; female: 26 lb / 12 kg
  • Where found: South & Central America
  • Typical habitat: forest; scrubland
  • Conservation status: Least Concern
  • Population trend: Decreasing

The ocelot is a small to mid-sized wild cat found in both South and North America. The species is present in small numbers in both Arizona and Texas.

The ocelot’s coat is pale yellow-gold and marked with numerous darker rings and patches with solid black outlines. This ‘mini-jaguar’ is around twice the size of a domestic cat, but on average smaller than both the bobcat and the Canada lynx.

The ocelot is typically found in habitats with thick vegetation, such as tropical rainforests and mangrove swamps. The species is also found in marshlands and grasslands, but usually in lower numbers.

An expert climber, the ocelot will often be found resting in the branches during the day. It will also seek refuge from predators by escaping up a tree.

The ocelot preys on a wide variety of small animals, most of which are under 2 lb 3 oz (1 kg) in weight. It is most active at night.

The conservation status of the ocelot is Least Concern, although its population is thought to be decreasing, mainly as a result of habitat loss.

  • You can find out more about the ocelot on this page: Ocelot Facts

Jaguarundi

Jaguarundi

  • Scientific name: Herpailurus yagouaroundi
  • Number of subspecies: 1
  • Maximum weight male: 15.4 lb / 7 kg ; females are slightly smaller than males
  • Where found: South America; Central America
  • Typical habitat: scrubland; grassland; forest
  • Conservation status: Least Concern
  • Population trend: Decreasing

The jaguarundi is a medium-small wild cat found mainly in South and Central America. Sightings are occasionally reported in Texas and Florida.

Although significantly larger than the average domestic cat, the jaguarundi is the smallest North American wild cat.

The jaguarundi has a distinctive, ‘weasel-like’ body shape, with a long body, short legs and a small head. Its coat is unmarked, and can be one of two main colors: dark grey or golden-red. Siblings may have coats of either color.

The closest relative of the jaguarundi is the puma. Both the jaguarundi and the puma belong to the same line of cats as the cheetah.

The jaguarundi inhabits a wide range of lowland habitats, including forests, savannas and grasslands. Unusually for a cat, it is usually active during the day. The species preys on a variety of small to mid-size prey, including rodents, birds and reptiles.

Although the conservation status of the jaguarundi is Least Concern, its population is decreasing. The main threat to the species is habitat loss.


Jaguar

Jaguar

  • Scientific name: Panthera onca
  • Number of subspecies: 1
  • Maximum weight male: 211.6 lb / 96 kg ; female: 172 lb / 78 kg
  • Where found: southern North America; northern and central South America
  • Typical habitat: forest, grasslands, wetlands
  • Conservation status: Near Threatened
  • Population trend: Decreasing

The jaguar is the largest cat found in the Americas, and the third largest in the world (only the tiger and lion are larger). The species is the only big cat (i.e. member of genus Panthera) found in the Americas.

Although most jaguars are found in South America – in particular in the rainforests of the Amazon Basin – this big cat is also found in North America. Its range extends northwards through Central America and even into the southwestern United States; jaguar sightings are occasionally reported in  Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The tail of this large and heavily-built cat is the shortest of any big cat. The species’ golden-yellow coat is covered in circular rosettes, which (unlike those of the otherwise similar-looking leopard) usually contain one or more smaller spots.

The jaguar’s rosettes provide camouflage, breaking up the cat’s body shape when it is prowling through the thick forest.

This North American wild cat is tremendously powerful, and has the third most powerful bite force of all cats (after the tiger and lion). Its jaws are capable of piercing the shell of a turtle.

Sitting at the top of the food chain, the jaguar is an apex predator, capable of preying on animals as large as the common caiman. Other common prey animals include wild boar, deer and the capybara.

The jaguar has a conservation status of ‘Near Threatened’. The main threat to the species is habitat loss due to deforestation.

  • You can find out more about the jaguar on this page: Jaguar Facts

Wild Cats of North America: Conclusion and Further Reading

We hope that you have enjoyed discovering the wild cats found in North America. You can find out more about cats and other animals on the following pages:

1 thought on “Wild Cats of North America – List With Pictures & Facts”

  1. i saw a animal up on the ledge about 15 feet high in the evening this animal stayed stationary standing upright body brown ears small like a cat cougar 3 feet off the ground tail about 2 feet long head was wide dark tan to a light tan face went wide to narrow to its nose nose being black it was dark even with my outdoor lights on this creature was quite interesting did not move when i shined a light up around it the tail looked quite stiff i could not get a picture it was way up 15 feet above ledge.

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