The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Monday, June 30, 2003

Bobcats North and South
Ron Smith, Valley Morning Star, June 2003, © 2004

My wife and I drove around the high curve of the ski hill and dropped down where a wall of balsam, spruce and oak opened up to show the lake. The surface stretched away for nine miles, a flat pan of ice under the gray afternoon sky. At the bottom of the slope was a short bridge over one of the creeks which feed the big waters. I glanced toward the lake, hoping to see an eagle on a hunger sweep for open water and good fishing. Instead there was something on the ice below the bridge, a mammal hunched there, but I could not identify it. We used our binoculars and were excited to see that it was a Bobcat. It was staring down at a hole which opened at its feet. About 25 yards away there was another mammal, a muskrat eyes on the predator. They were both as still as the frozen winterscape. Swiftly the scene changed. The cat plunged into the hole up to its hindquarters. The muskrat did not move. Next, out of the hole came the cat spraying water as it shook another muskrat vised in its jaws! Then it swung away and padded across into the gray-brown marsh grass where it disappeared. We looked at each other truly thrilled with the chance to see this unusual hunting experience. However, the other muskrat simply walked away. And there you have the difference between man and muskrat.

We do not often see the big cats, although they occasionally sprint across the road in front of the car, or slip like shadows along our river trail. They are hunted and trapped in the north, and sometimes the local newspaper features a story with photographs showing the Nimrods posed with their kill. They look a bit silly since the Bobcat seldom reaches 28 pounds. In Texas we have seen them at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a reliable spot to see them.

This attractive creature, sometimes called the Red Lynx because of rusty markings, has adapted well to the encroachment of man ranging the entire U. S. except for the central agricultural states. Apparently, it is a lover of woodlands. The cat is a pure meat-eater feeding on everything from eggs to small deer. The latter would be a challenge because of the Bobcat' s size and the fact that it is not a courser. Its long legs do help in leaping, however. It is just not built for speed like the Cheetah, so the usual catch is mice, rabbits, and ground birds One advantage is its hearing; there are tufts of fur on the ears whcih serve as antennae. As a matter of fact, if these are removed, hearing is less acute!

The males have a wide territory, at times as much as 40 square miles, but the females stay close to home. This is a solitary mammal except for breeding season. Their disposition might be a factor..they are spitfires. A friend who restores injured wildlife to health ranks the Bobcat as the most difficult patient. Bears, badgers, foxes and deer are treatable, but a Bobcat kitten is almost impossible to handle, spitting, snarling and clawing.

We come to an interesting consideration. This mammal is one of the prime examples of Bergmann's Rule, devised by a 19th Century German scientist who proved that animals in the northern parts of the world are larger and bulkier than those of the same species in the southern regions. Why? You did ask, right? It seems that larger body size retains heat better than the smaller, and conversely, the smaller the size the more heat is dissipated thereby cooling the creature. You can see then why Bobcats in South Texas should want to be smaller. And wouldn't we all? This rule has been found to apply to many species, such as Downy Woodpeckers and House Sparrows, not just mammals.

I was always astounded by the Richard Moore programs showing those Texas White-tailed Deer with antler racks like chandeliers Things are bigger in Texas, it is said, but I could not believe their size until I realized that these are much smaller-bodied bucks than the northern counterparts. This was pointed out when a wildlife photographer and naturalist visited our place in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. As the deer fed in our clearing, he exclaimed, "Look at the leg and body size of those deer!" If you have been through a Michigan winter, you would hope for more bulk.

We have come from the icy cold to the heat of Texas, from big cats to smaller cats and from little bucks to big bucks....Just like wandering through nature's paths, one experience or idea leads to others. Whether you are in the north or in the Valley, take the path.

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