Montana is blessed with an abundance of wildlife, from birds to rodents to big game to bears to wild cats. Having both prairies and mountains, as well as a relatively small population of people, in addition to the size of the state, the variation in animals and great numbers of them is hardly surprising. Indeed, Montana is one of the few states that can boast reasonably large populations of three of the most common wild cats in the United States: Bobcats, lynxes and cougars.
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Bobcats are among the most common wildcats in the US, with nearly a nation-wide distribution. These cats vary from almost creamy in color, brown, to gray in the winter and normally have distinctive striped or spotted markings. The cats are medium-sized with adult males reaching around 30 pounds in weight, though the females tend to be somewhat smaller.
Distinguished by a short tail and short but noticeable tufts on the tips of the ears, bobcats are usually bulky and muscular rather than being sleek like many other members of the cat family. These beautiful animals can reach about three and a half feet in length, from the nose to the tip of the stubby tail, and are around two feet tall at the shoulder.
The diet of these wildcats include rabbits, hares, squirrels, mice, voles, birds and occasionally reptiles, insects and amphibians. They have been known to eat deer, mostly in the wintertime, however it isn’t clear if they’ve actually killed the animals or if the deer have been died from weakness or other causes.
Bobcats usually have up to six kittens, though much depends on the amount of food that is available.
Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
Properly called the Canadian Lynx, this cat looks similar to bobcats, but they aren’t the same species. A lynx is markedly larger than a bobcat, reaching over 40 pounds in weight. They are also longer, taller and slightly more slender than its cousin. The tip of the tail is completely dark while that of the bobcat is only dark on the top. Lynxes have ear tufts as well, however they are more pronounced than those of bobcats. The paws of a lynx are also larger, allowing them to chase after prey on snow.
The favored food for a linx is a snowshoe hare, which they are capable of chasing down even in snowy forests and high country. Ordinarily, though, they like to sit in wait and pounce on their prey. They will occasionally eat other rodents and birds, however when the number of snowshoes declines, as it usually does cyclically, the number of lynxes also decreases.
Once having a much larger range, lynxes are currently and officially only found in six states in the continental U.S., with the largest population being found in Montana, primarily in evergreen forests in the state, such as those found in the Montana Rockies.
Cougar (Puma concolor)
Though not as large as jaguars, tigers or lions, cougars are much larger than either bobcats or lynxes. Also known as pumas, mountain lions, panthers or catamounts, these are truly majestic cats. With a long tail, this animal can reach nearly nine feet from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail, with about two and a half feet being in tail length. Large individuals can approach 200 pounds in weight. Males tend to be larger than females.
The coloration is mostly reddish brown, tawny or gray, with creamy to white on the underside and around the muzzle. The tip of the tail is normally dark. The young have spots, but these soon fade as they grow older.
Cougars in Montana live primarily in the mountains and feed mostly on deer, elk, porcupines and snowshoe hares. Sightings are rare and most of them occur in the Montana Rockies. Like lynxes, cougars are good swimmers and seem to occasionally enjoy a swim. Still, they are nocturnal hunters so a person seeing one should consider themselves fortunate.
Montana has three species of beautiful wildcats. The numbers of these animals is almost as impressive as the animals themselves. This is mostly because of the small number of people living in the fourth largest state. It is a treat to see one of these animals and can create a memory that is long treasured.