Physical Characteristics: 18 – 23 inches tall at shoulder, 31 – 40 inches long including tail, 15 – 40 pounds. Medium-sized, short-tailed, long-legged cat has huge feet and protruding ears tipped with 2 – inch black hairs. Fur is long, ranging in color from reddish, yellow-brown, to silvery-gray with dark spots or streaks and whitish underside. Large, furry feet allow to stalk prey in silence and travel fast in snow.
Diet: Snowshoe Hare typically makes up bulk of diet – when hare populations crash spot do lynx populations. Will sustain itself on squirrels, grouse, other rodents, or even domestic animals. Primarily solitary hunter of remote forests, largely nocturnal with more diurnal activity in winter, and will cache uneaten kill under snow or leafy debris.
Habitat: Depends on dense conifer forests for security and denning. Numerous fallen trees, rocky outcrops, and occasional dense thickets serve as effective cover; ambush sites are desired habitat components. Forest edges, which provide food for lynxes’ major prey – snowshoe hare – are critical.
Range: Primarily inhabitant boreal forests and occur across much of Canada and Alaska, and into northern US border states, extending south into Rocky Mountains through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Colorado. Individual home ranges vary and documented between 3 – 300 square miles. In Lower 48, populations and densities tend to remain low. Historically found throughout Clearwater Basin. Confirmed sighting by Forest Service wildlife biologist occurred along Lochsa River in early 2000s.
Reproduction: Breeding season lasts one month, ranging from March – May depending on local climate. Females attract males by leaving urine where males mark their territory, and by repeated calling. Female will only mate with one male each season, though a male may mate with multiple females. Females produce one to five kittens in May – June; kittens stay with mother through first winter and share den site until mature enough to leave.
Threats: Officially listed as threatened under Endangered Species Act in contiguous U.S.. Trapping reduced numbers historically; current threats include habitat destruction/fragmentation from human development, logging, road building, motor vehicle traffic, and snowmobiles.
Miscellaneous: Desired for their fur, population records kept by Canadian government and Hudson’s Bay Company date back to 1730s. Predator-prey relationship between lynx and Snowshoe Hare well documented for decades; each respective population parallels the other – when hare numbers decline, the change in lynx diet causes productivity of adult females and survival of young to nearly cease.
Other animals benefit from lynx superior stalking skills: the Great Horned Owl will station itself above the lynx and wait for it to flush prey out of hiding place, and then swoop down and capture its meal before the lynx can get it.
Learn more about efforts to recover lynx.