They always land on their feet. They were worshipped by the Egyptians. They rule the internet with their memes. And they may or may not have nine lives. There’s no denying it, cats are awesome.
But your furry feline friend isn’t the only cat out there. There are more than 35 species of cats in the world, and they’re native to every continent except Antarctica and Australia. All cats are carnivores. They’re skilled hunters that stalk their prey with ease and are good at climbing trees.
August 8 is International Cat Day, making it the purrfect time to spotlight a few members of the feline family found in the U.S. and where you can see them on America’s public lands. Not to mention, the photos are pawsome!
Also called pumas, cougars and panthers, mountain lions are found in the 14 westernmost states and Florida but are rarely seen. They are one of the largest cats in North America, reaching 8 feet long from nose to tail and weighting around 150 pounds (females are smaller). Mountain lions are born spotted, with blue eyes and rings on their tails, but by the time they are adults, they will generally be tawny or grayish in color without spots, have a white underbelly and a black-tipped tail. These solitary animals generally only seek company during breeding, and then female lions will raise their brood of kittens until the young go on their own at 12-24 months. Fun fact: these cats don’t roar, but they’re capable of an unimaginable, penetrating scream. Mountain lions are known to roam around national parks like Rocky Mountain, Big Bend, Bryce Canyon and Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles, where scientists have been studying since 2002 how mountain lions survive in this megacity.
Although elusive and nocturnal, bobcats are the wildcats most likely to be seen in North America. They roam throughout much of the continent and thrive in a diversity of habitats -- from forests and swamps to deserts and mountains. It’s estimated that there are as many as one million bobcats in the U.S. alone. Bobcats are one of the smallest wildcats in the U.S., but don’t confuse these felines for a pet. They’re fierce hunters that rely on a stealthy ambush hunting style and can kill prey much bigger than themselves (like deer or a shark -- yes, you read that right, a shark). Bobcats are good swimmers and climbers, with excellent eyesight and hearing. Bobcats have long legs, large paws, and tufted ears, and are brown or brownish red with a white underbelly. They get their name from their short, black-tipped tail, which appears to be cut or "bobbed." Be on the lookout for bobcats in public lands throughout the U.S. -- from South Carolina’s Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and Indiana’s Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.
Known as the little leopard, ocelots used to range from south Texas up into Arkansas and Louisiana and as far west as Arizona. They are still occasionally seen in Arizona, but you’re mostly likely to see them at Texas’s Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a breeding population of ocelots. While there are only an estimated 50 ocelots that remain in the United States, in 2016 researchers found a new ocelot den, giving hope that conservation efforts with public and private partners are showing results. Larger than a house cat but smaller than a bobcat, ocelots have a long, ringed tail that is about the length of their body -- but they’re most recognized by their distinct spots and rounded ears. Unlike other cats, they can turn their ankle joints around, allowing them to literally climb down a tree. What can you do to help ocelots? The majority of ocelot deaths are from vehicles, so be sure to drive slowly, watch for signs that are placed in known ocelot crossing areas and report any sighting to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Canada lynx are highly specialized forest-dwelling cats of northern latitudes. Their range extends from Alaska throughout much of Canada and into the boreal forests in the northeastern U.S., the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains. Lynx have long tufts of black fur on the tips of their ears, a ruff of long hairs that frames the face, and a short, black-tipped tail -- distinguishing it from its smaller relative, the bobcat. Canada lynx fur varies from yellowish to rusty to reddish-brown, muted with silver and tipped with white -- an ideal coloring for an animal active in the shadow hours of dawn and dusk. With large paws and long hind legs, lynx are highly adapted to hunting their primary prey (the snowshoe hare) in deep powdery snow. While prominently solitary, females and their cubs have been known to work together in hunting, one lynx scaring prey out of hiding while the others attack. Lynx have been documented to live up to 16 years in the wild. Lynx are known to live around Alaska’s Denali National Park and Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, Montana’s Glacier National Park and Maine’s Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge. Learn how conservation efforts are helping the cat rebound in Maine.
Our list of wild cats isn’t complete without highlighting the Florida panther. A subspecies of the puma (or mountain lion), Florida panthers are the only known breeding population of pumas in the eastern United States. Like their mountain lion cousins, Florida panther kittens have blue eyes and spots, but as they age, their eyes turn yellow and their spots gradually fade. Adult Florida panthers are typically tan in color, but may be darker brown to rust-colored along the midline of the back. Their underside is dull white or buff-colored, and they have black fur on the tip of the tail, back of the ears and sides of the muzzle. Full-grown males weigh 102-160 pounds and measure nearly 7 feet from nose to the tip of the tail. Females are considerably smaller, with a weight range of 50 to 115 pounds and measuring about 6 feet. Once known to range across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina, today, they are only found in southern Florida at places like Everglades National Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve. Since 1967, scientists at Interior have been working closely with public and private partners to help the Florida panther populations recover. If you see a Florida panther, please share the information with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help scientists with their conservation efforts. Watch this video about the current status of the Florida panther and how communities are hopeful about its shared future.
The largest species of cat in the Western Hemisphere, jaguars roam from Mexico to South America. While jaguars are now a rare sight in the United States, three male jaguars have been spotted in southern Arizona since 2012. The most recent sighting was photographed in July 2017 by a trail camera in the Dos Cabezas Mountains. Jaguars tend to be best known for their yellow, orange and tan coats, but can sometimes have a range of color variations that include red, brown, white and occasionally black. They have big heads, large bodies and a long tail, and look similar to leopards, which live in Africa and Asia. While jaguars are nocturnal animals, they can be active during the day. They are good swimmers and will rest or hunt from trees. Jaguars can live to be 12-15 years old.
Before you head out to try to spot one of these big cats or any animals in the wild, check out seven tips for viewing wildlife safely.