The Mystery of the Lynx: Why Do These Cats Have Ear Tufts?

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

A close-up of a fluffy Eurasian lynx
A close-up of a fluffy Eurasian lynx | Wirestock via Getty Images

The lynx can expose secret truths and see what others cannot in Greek, Norse, and North American mythology.

The name for this cat comes from the Greek phrase “to shine,” which may refer to the animal’s reflective eyes.

But today, we’ll be talking about the lynx and its ear tufts!

However, lynxes aren’t the only creatures with glowing eyes; cats and numerous other species have.

Then what makes this feline special?

Why Does the Lynx Have Ear Tufts?

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

When trying to determine whether or not it is a lynx, it’s not the eyes that hold the ultimate say.

It’s the ears.

The lynx is distinguished by the black hair on the points of its ears and its short bobbed tail.

The bobcat is the common name for one species of lynx.

Every lynx has those tufts on its ears, but nobody knows why.

Some researchers have hypothesized that lynxes utilize their ears like whiskers to sense movement overhead.

Some people claim the stalks of hairs improve the cat’s hearing.

Canada Lynx walking on a log across a river
Canada Lynx walking on a log across a river | dssimages via Getty Images

One theory is that the lynx can manipulate them like antennae to improve his hearing from any angle.

Another set of characteristics that place a cat in the lynx family includes long legs and a short tail.

The extended limbs of the lynx are a useful adaptation in its snowy habitat.

Most of the species are situated in regions where it frequently snowfalls.

When their paws hit the ground, they spread them wide to evenly distribute their weight.

Much like how wearing snowshoes makes your foot wider so you don’t slip.

The Four Species of Lynx

Having talked about their enigmatic ear tufts, majestic snowshoes, and cute bobbed tails, let’s meet the members of the different Lynx.

The Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)

Canadian lynx in the wilderness
Canadian lynx in the wilderness | Photo: Jillian Cooper via Getty Images

The Canadian lynx, sometimes known as the North American lynx, is native to Canada, the northern United States, and Alaska. 

It is bounded north by Yukon’s Canadian territory, which is close to the Arctic Circle.

Its adult size can vary in length from 67 to 107 cm (about 26 to 42 inches) and weight from 8 to 17 kg (18 to 38 lb).

At the shoulder, it measures an average of 61 centimeters in height.

Its thick fur is a pale brown or gray color with tiny black patches.

In adulthood, males are only slightly bigger than females.

Canadian Lynx walking through the winters snow
Canadian Lynx walking through the winters snow | Lynn_Bystrom via iStock

The large paws of the Canadian lynx have long, thick hair to keep the cat’s toes toasty in the winter, and the cat’s black tail tip is another distinguishing feature.

When going over deep snow, it can flatten its toes like snowshoes.

The Canadian lynx also has more prominent ear tufts than other lynxes.

The snowshoe hare is the main food source for Canadian lynxes, and these cats prefer to reside in areas with thick forests.

The hares’ nocturnal habits suggest that these cats are, too.

Because these cats rely so heavily on the snowshoe hare for survival, whenever the hare supply plummets, so do the lynx populations.

The Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx)

The Eurasian lynx
The Eurasian lynx / Korbinian Mueller via Getty Images

The Eurasian lynx is the biggest lynx species and the third-largest predator in Europe.

A fully developed adult can weigh anything between 18 and 36 kilograms (between 40 and 80 pounds) and measure between 70 and 130 centimeters in length (about 28 to 51 inches).

The tallest individuals can reach a shoulder height between 60 and 71 centimeters (24 and 28 inches).

Common prey items include hares, rodents, birds and their eggs, and hoofed mammals like roe deer, musk deer, and chamois.

Eurasian Lynx Distribution and Conservation

Its native habitats include both the boreal and deciduous woods of Europe and Asia, and its range extends from Scandinavia to Kamchatka in one continuous zone.

Some isolated populations of this variety can be found in the central European mountains, the Caspian Sea area, Central Asia, and the Tibetan Plateau. 

European lynx in a wintry landscape
European lynx in a wintry landscape | Michael Roeder via Getty Images

Vast numbers of Eurasian lynx furs and skins were harvested and shipped by Russia and China in the 1970s and 1980s.

While the number of poaching incidents has decreased dramatically since rigorous fur export laws were put in place, the species is still often taken by poachers.

According to ecologists, Eurasian lynx numbers may be declining in some regions of their range due to habitat destruction and declining prey supplies.

Though there may be more than 45,000 Eurasian lynx in the wild, the species has been listed as near endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2002.

The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

An Iberian lynx
An Iberian lynx | Jose Angel Cortes Garcia via Getty Images

The Iberian lynx ( also called the Spanish lynx or the Pardel lynx) can be distinguished from its Eurasian cousin by its smaller size, shorter tail with black tips, and the occurrence of long, white, beardlike fur underneath its chin.

The average adult can grow between 80 and 130 centimeters (31 and 51 inches) long and 10 and 15 kilograms (22 and 33 pounds).

The Iberian lynx can be anywhere from 45 to 70 centimeters tall at the shoulders (about 18–28 inches).

Iberian Lynx Distribution and Conservation

The Iberian lynx was spread over southern France, Portugal, and Spain in the eighteenth century.

However, the current range of this species is limited to a tiny corner in southwestern Spain.

Iberian lynx drinking water
An Iberian lynx on a drinks break | StockPhotoAstur via Unsplash

There are two known breeding populations left, and both are located in Andalusia, in the Sierra de Andjar in Jaén, and in the Coto de Doana National Park.

The Iberian lynx relies on the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) as its principal food source.

However, this population has been drastically reduced due to myxomatosis since the 1950s and rabbit hemorrhagic disease since the late 1980s.

Since 1960, the Iberian lynx population has dropped by 80 percent because of habitat degradation, automobile collisions, and hunting pressure.

Despite captive breeding and surveillance efforts initiated at the turn of the 21st century, the Iberian lynx has been declared critically endangered by the IUCN since 2002.

The Bobcat (Lynx Rufus) 

Photo: Banu R via Getty Images

The bobcat, also known as the bay lynx or the wildcat, first appeared in North America during the Irvingtonian period, about 1.8 million years ago.

They are found from southern Canada to northern Mexico and has twelve accepted subspecies.

The bobcat is a versatile predator that thrives in various habitats, including semiarid regions, forest borders, urban areas, and swamps.

The bobcat’s large rear legs allow it to leap onto its prey or up a tree out of harm’s way. 

Rabbits, mice, moles, and squirrels are among its food sources. They also occasionally consume birds and reptiles.

Deer are the largest mammal the bobcat is known to prey upon, and this typically occurs in the winter when tiny rodents are rare.

The largest prey of the bobcat is the deer | Whiteway via iStock

The bobcat’s coat can be anywhere from a pale yellow to a dark reddish brown.

The latter coloration being more common in warmer months.

The coat features splotches of black, and the bobcat’s signature short tail is tipped with a black band.

The bobcat is the smallest lynx, about the size of a big domestic cat.

Most adults reach a length of 65–70 cm (26–28 inches); however, specimens as short as 47 cm (about 19 inches) and as long as 125 cm (about 49 inches) have been observed.

It weighs 9–12 kg (approximately 20–26 pounds), stands tall at the shoulder, and is 45–58 cm (18–23 inches) tall.

Bobcat Distribution and Conservation

Bobcat | Anita Elder Design via Getty Images

Bobcats are native to much of the United States, except for the agricultural Midwest and some portions of the East Coast.

This is where humans heavily hunted them in the early 20th century.

Southern Canada and the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Baja California Sur are other frequent locations for this species’ range expansion southward. 

There has been no significant drop in the bobcat population.

Even though thousands are killed yearly in the United States for the commercial fur trade, that is.

There are likely more than a hundred thousand bobcats in the United States.

However, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species does not list them as endangered.

Hope you learned a ton about the lynx, its ear tufts, and its many different kinds!


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