Florida is home to only two native wild cats: the Bobcat and the Panther. If you see a wild cat, you know it’s likely one of these two. But which one is it, and more importantly, how can you tell the difference?
The Panther has a large range, and people from different parts of the world call them different names, such as Cougar, Puma, and Mountain Lion. “Panther” is the general term used to describe cats with coats of a single color.
The Florida Bobcat is much smaller than the Florida Panther and can have stripes or spots on their coat. Let’s learn more about the differences between these cats. Read on to learn more about the Florida Bobcat vs. the Florida Panther.
At a Glance
Florida Bobcat Overview
The Florida Bobcat is abundant throughout the state. They are not endangered or threatened and can be hunted during certain months of the year. Bobcats can be found all over, living in swamps or forests. They can adapt to any living situation and can be seen in agricultural, suburban, or rural areas. They normally keep to themselves, living solitary lives except for breeding season, when they seek mates.
Bobcats live in hollow logs, caves, openings in the ground, and tree hollows. These cats don’t pose any threat to people. They are just about double the size of a domestic housecat and can’t hunt humans. They will prey on small animals, though, including domestic dogs and cats. It’s important to always watch your pets when they’re outdoors.
The Bobcat is a common sight in Florida.
Characteristics & Appearance
The Bobcat has long legs, large paws, and a short tail that gives them their name. The tail is bobbed and only 1–7 inches long. This is a small cat that likes to keep out of sight as much as possible, but you can recognize them by their features.
A Bobcat has triangular-shaped ears that are tufted. The back of the ears and the belly are white with black spots. Their coats range from reddish-brown to gray, and they are covered with stripes, spots, or both. These markings are brown or black.
These cats, like housecats, have retractable claws. As they walk, the back feet land in the same places that the front feet did, causing little to no disruption around them as they move. They hunt at night, moving efficiently to find food. They’ll eat birds, chickens, rats, rabbits, and squirrels but are not opposed to grabbing a pet dog or cat if they have to.
Their excellent eyesight helps them hunt. They can swim and climb trees, so it’s not uncommon to see a Bobcat perched up high. Since they don’t require the same food as the Panther, the two can coexist in the same environment.
Some people hunt Bobcats because they view them as pests. They can dig holes in yards and cause landscaping damage. Others hunt Bobcats because they eat them and use their pelts. Bobcat pelts can be sold to make fur coats, making money for hunters and trappers.
Florida Panther Overview
The Florida Panther is the state animal of Florida. The cat is considered endangered. There are plans in place to conserve the Panther and protect them. Hunting Panthers has been outlawed since 1958. The biggest reason for this is human population growth overtaking the Panther’s natural habitats. There are an estimated 120–230 Panthers in the Florida population today.
Panthers are solitary animals, like Bobcats. They don’t bond with their mates and are mostly active at night when hunting. If you see a cat and don’t know which one it is, look for a solid coat and long tail. Those are the most obvious differences between the Panther and Bobcat. Bobcat sightings are also more common in general. Panthers are more elusive.
You’ll find Panthers throughout peninsular Florida, particularly south of Orlando. They prefer forested areas where they can have vegetation for coverage, resting, and making dens.
Characteristics & Appearance
Panthers are large cats with tan coats, long tails, and no tufts or markings on the ears. The cat can grow to be over 6 feet long. They tend to hunt white-tailed deer primarily but are opportunistic and will eat whatever they can catch. They can hunt large prey animals, unlike the Bobcat.
The Florida Panther has a white muzzle, chest, and stomach. They have black markings around the eyes, making them appear to be wearing eyeliner. They spend most of their time in swamps, hardwood forests, and pinelands. The cats have adapted well to hot, wet climates.
The Panther is Florida’s top predator. They are necessary to regulate the food chain. Panthers control the populations of armadillos, deer, hogs, and raccoons through hunting, keeping the ecosystem in balance.
Panthers tend to hunt sick, weak, or elderly prey animals, which improves the breeding stock of these animals and reduces the risk of disease and genetic defects. This also replenishes nutrients in the ecosystem. The Panther’s endangered status is concerning because they are critical for the ecosystem’s survival.
What Are the Differences Between the Florida Bobcat & Panther?
The Florida Bobcat is only the size of a medium dog. The Panther is much larger and can weigh up to 160 pounds.
The Bobcat has a mottled, striped, or spotted coat. Sometimes it’s a mix of different markings. The Panther has a solid tawny-brown coat color. Young Panthers may be spotted until they reach 6 months old, and then the spots fade.
The Panther has a long tail that measures around a third of their body length. Bobcat tails are short and only reach up to 7 inches in length.
Bobcats eat small animals and birds, including domestic animals if they can get them. Panthers eat various animals but usually ones much larger than the prey of a Bobcat. Panthers hunt deer and pigs but can take down larger animals, like an elk or moose. Since the two cats don’t share many prey animals, they can survive together in the same territory.
The Bobcat is abundant and not threatened. It is legal to hunt them during certain times of the year. Panthers are protected as an endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and cannot be harmed or hunted.
Which Animal Is Right for You?
If you find yourself face to face with one of these cats, don’t run away. This can trigger their instinct to chase you. Make eye contact with the cat and face them. Pick up any small children and keep older children close to you.
Raise and wave your arms slowly to make yourself appear larger. If the cat has nowhere to go, make sure to give them a path to escape. If they feel cornered, they may attack out of fear. These cats don’t want to confront a human and will likely take the first route out of there.
Don’t turn your back on the cat until you’re sure they are gone.
The Florida Bobcat and Panther are wild cats. Neither one is domesticated, and they should not be kept as pets. The Bobcat can be stressed in captivity, and the Panther can cause severe and even fatal injuries to humans. Both of these cats should be observed from a distance and treated with respect. Neither of them wishes to interact with people and will mostly keep to themselves unless they feel threatened.
Featured Image Credit: Bobcat (Steve Byland, Shutterstock) Panther (jo Crebbi, Shutterstock)