Oklahoma is home to two different but equally elusive species of wild cat: the bobcat and the mountain lion. Bobcats have a very healthy population in Oklahoma and are found all over the state, and while there is confirmed evidence that mountain lions do inhabit Oklahoma, they are incredibly rare, and sightings are few and far between.
Bobcats in Oklahoma
The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is about twice the size of your average housecat and while they look cute and cuddly, they are very different from your average domesticated cat. Bobcats are found in every contiguous state within the United States except for Delaware. There is a widespread population of the bobcat in Oklahoma. They are found in every county within the state and are very abundant in numbers.
Bobcats get their name from their distinct, bobbed black-tipped tails. Their soft coat is variable, ranging from grayish brown to brownish red in color with spotted patterning and dark bars on the forelegs and a white underbelly. Their tufted ears bear a close resemblance to that of their close relative, the Canadian lynx. They have very large paws and long legs.
Bobcats are stealthy and patient hunters that can run up to 30 miles per hour and pounce up to 10 feet. In Oklahoma, their diet consists of rabbits, squirrels, birds, and any other small prey. They do have the capability to take down much larger prey, such as deer, but tend to stick to the smaller game.
Habitat and Behavior
Bobcats are an adaptable species that are found throughout North America and inhabit the entire state of Oklahoma. They thrive in the forest but can easily inhabit swamplands, and deserts, and are even known to wander into suburban areas.
Bobcats are very elusive creatures that are rarely ever seen by humans, even considering their large numbers. They are most active during dawn and dusk when they are out searching for prey. These animals are solitary except for breeding, which takes place from winter into spring.
Mountain Lions in Oklahoma
Mountain lions, known by the scientific name of Puma concolor, are sometimes referred to as cougars, pumas, and panthers. Their range extends from North America into South America and while they used to be found all over the contiguous United States, their populations were demolished after European settlement when large predators like wild cats, wolves, and bears were purposely killed. Nowadays, mountain lions in Oklahoma are very few and far between, though sightings do still occur.
Mountain lions are large cats with beige to tawny-colored coats with a white to the whitish-grey underbelly. Their body size varies depending on geographical location, but males typically weigh between 130 and 150 pounds, with females being considerably smaller at 65 to 90 pounds.
Mountain lions have long, heavy tails with a black tip that can take up about one-third of their overall body length. Their legs are long, and their paws are massive. Their heads are a bit small in proportion to their body size and they have piercing amber-colored eyes.
A mountain lion’s diet consists primarily of deer, though they will also hunt a variety of other game including rabbits, turkey, raccoons, squirrels, and more. They will occasionally take down bigger game, such as elk, but elk are very rare in Oklahoma. Elk are only found within Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, and the Pushmataha, Cookson Hills, Spavinaw, and Cherokee wildlife management areas.
The prime prey item within Oklahoma’s boundaries is the white-tail deer, which are found throughout the state. There is a population of mule deer in Oklahoma, but they only inhabit the westernmost portion of the state.
Habitat and Behavior
Mountain lions are very adaptable animals that can thrive in a variety of different habitats and terrains. In North America, they are most common to mountainous areas but can be found wherever deer are present. These cats can be found in deserts, mountains, lowlands, mangrove forests, deciduous forests, canyons, and prairies, to name a few.
Mountain lions are very elusive creatures, similar to the bobcat but much less widespread. Unlike other big cats, mountain lions are unable to roar. They vocalize by growling, hissing, shrieking, and purring. They are solitary animals that are most active during dawn and dusk. They are avid hunters that typically stalk their prey from behind. They can run up to 50 miles per hour and their powerful hind legs allow them to leap up to 45 feet.
The Mystery of Mountain Lions in Oklahoma
Oklahoma and all 48 of the contiguous states in the United States were once prime mountain lion habitats. During the 19th century settlement and land development, mountain lions were eradicated within the state of Oklahoma.
Settlers would shoot and kill large predators that were deemed threats to themselves and their livestock. They also diminished the population of deer during this time, which is the mountain lion’s main source of prey. Small populations of mountain lions remained in the western United States, while the Eastern United states populations were wiped out.
Since the mid-1800s, sightings and concrete evidence of mountain lions within the state have occurred regularly and been documented by biologists. While there are hundreds of reported sightings, it takes concrete evidence to confirm the sighting is in fact, a mountain lion. Since 2002, there have been over 50 confirmed sightings of mountain lions all over the state.
Oklahoma is lacking evidence of a viable breeding population of mountain lions within the state. The confirmation of these wild cats comes from trail camera footage, hair samples, tracks, and individual mountain lions either being struck on the roadways or shot and killed.
Both bobcats and mountain lions can be found in Oklahoma. Bobcats are an abundant species found all over the state, while mountain lions are much rarer and Oklahoma does not have an official record of a breeding population within the state, there are ongoing confirmed sightings of wandering individual cats. Both animals are solitary and very elusive, it is rare for either of these wild cats to be seen, though it does happen.
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