Canada lynx Lynx canadensis
ESA status: threatened

Canada Lynx pc Keith WilliamsCanada lynx are an iconic wild cat of high elevation, boreal, subalpine, and hardwood forests in North America. This gorgeous feline is well known to scores of ecology students who study its specialized predator-prey relationship with snowshoe hares. Intensive trapping has depleted lynx populations and habitat loss and degradation have confined the species to limited areas in the lower 48 states (the Northeast, Upper Great Lakes, the Northern Rocky Mountains, the Kettle and Wedge mountain ranges in Washington, the North Cascades and the Southern Rocky Mountains).

The lynx is a medium-sized cat (19-22 pounds) with long legs, large paws, long tufts on the ears, and a short, black-tipped tail. The lynx is often confused with the more widely ranging bobcat (Lynx rufus). The lynx is slightly larger than the bobcat, has grayish (rather than reddish) fur, less prominent spots, and a shorter tail. Bobcats also lack the lynx’s conspicuously long ear tufts.

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Male lynx establish territories that typically encompass the ranges of multiple females and vary in size from 10 to almost 100 square miles, depending on habitat quality and prey availability. Females give birth in spring to 1 to 4 kittens that have beautiful, icy blue eyes. Kittens stay with their mother for the first year while they learn to hunt.

Lynx are heavily dependent on snowshoe hares. Both species are strongly associated with high elevation forests that have cold, snowy winters. Lynx have acute hearing, and their large, furry paws act as snowshoes, allowing the cat to track and capture the swift snowshoe hares in deep snow. These same qualities also give the lynx a competitive advantage over other predators, such as coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. Hares use young forests with brushy understories, while lynx need old-growth forests with downed trees for denning and raising young. These matrix forest types are uncommon, threatened by logging and unnatural fire, and now face new threats due to climate change. Canada lynx were federally protected as a “threatened” species in 14 states in 2000. New Mexico was originally not included on the list, but as a result of efforts by Guardians and partners, lynx are now protected wherever they are found.

photo credit: Keith Williams