Few animals are as mysterious and fascinating as wild cats. The Ancient Egyptians worshipped them, with evidence of this place of honor going back to 1950 BC. They are stealthy hunters, with the Black-footed Cat of Africa having a 60% successful kill rate. Thirty-eight feline species exist in the world today, yet only three live in Minnesota, with one making a recent comeback.
You may think the state’s wild cats are only found in remote areas. That’s true for the most part. However, some have even made their way into urban areas in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
The 3 Types of Wild Cats in Minnesota
1. Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
|Habitat :||Shrublands, forests, grasslands|
|Length/Weight :||Up to 36 inches long; Males: Up to 30 pounds; females, 20–25 pounds|
|Lifespan:||Up to 12 years in the wild|
The Bobcat is the most abundant species in the state and the North American continent. They live in all the lower 48 states except Delaware, with an estimated population of up to 3,571,681 cats. Recent data shows their numbers are increasing across its entire range. Consequently, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), it is a species of least concern.
The Bobcat has many things going for it. It is nocturnal, although it is sometimes active at dusk. It lives in various habitats, from brushlands to forests to cedar swamps. It’s also a solitary animal that doesn’t vocalize a lot. That gives it a competitive edge when hunting. The feline lives in the northern triangle of the state, with few sightings in the southwestern areas.
2. Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
|Habitat :||Mature, boreal forests, tundras|
|Length/Weight :||Up to 3 feet; Adults: 20–44 pounds|
|Lifespan:||Up to 14.5 years in the wild|
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) classifies the Canada Lynx as a federally threatened species according to the Endangered Species Act. It is a rare sighting in the state, if just because of its northern habitat. However, it lives throughout Canada, hence, its name, into Alaska. Minnesota is one of four states in the country with resident breeding populations.
This species is closely associated with the Snowshoe Hare, which is a classic example of predator-prey cycles. When the hares increase, the Lynx follows. Likewise, the cat is less likely to occur in areas where its prey isn’t present. The species resembles the Bobcat, although it is bigger, fluffier, and has a shorter tail.
3. Mountain Lion (Puma concolor, Felis concolor)
|Habitat :||Rocky canyons or mountainous terrain|
|Length/Weight :||6–8 feet; Males: 120–220 pounds; Female: 64–140 pounds|
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) classifies the Mountain Lion as a rare species of special concern. Historically, the cat lived in the state before its numbers dwindled with habitat encroachment. However, sightings have spiked in the last 20 years. The DNR has documented 59 incidents since 2004. The agency doesn’t believe there is a resident breeding population.
Instead, the Mountain Lions are probably transients from South and North Dakota. Most reports are sightings of the elusive feline. However, DNR reported roadkill in July 2022 in Savage, MN, a southwestern suburb of Minneapolis. Other cities have also reported sightings on trail cameras, prompting local law enforcement to issue resident alerts about their presence.
Risks of Wild Cat Encounters in Minnesota
It’s inevitable when people move into a wildlife habitat that conflicts will occur. That’s true more so with Bobcats than Lynx because of their respective ranges. Encounters aren’t uncommon but not unheard of, as a Vermont family found out when a Bobcat got into their house and attacked their cat in May 2022. Unfortunately, the animal was rabid. Luckily, the family pet survived the ordeal.
However, Mountain Lions are another story. While rare, researchers documented 74 attacks between 1924 and 2018 in 16 states. None were fatal. However, children under 18 were the most common victim in 48% of the cases. In recent years, a 9-year-old child was attacked in Washington in May 2022. A dog fended off a would-be attack in Utah in July 2022.
There have been fatal attacks through the years, which explains the seriousness with which law enforcement track sightings. The US National Park Service offers advice to people living in an active Mountain Lion habitat, which now apparently includes Minnesota. You can survive an attack by deterring the cat and fighting back. It’s imperative not to run or act like prey. Also, never turn your back on the predator.
Importance of Predators
Predators serve vital purposes in the environment. They help keep prey species in check, which can be destructive, particularly to farmers. The control of the Snowshoe Hare is an example. Luckily, Minnesota’s wild cats don’t pose significant problems with livestock. However, landowners can contact the DNR for assistance with nuisance wildlife.
Minnesota has only three wild cat species. Most likely, you probably won’t see them, either. Their natural wariness toward humans will keep them at bay. Nevertheless, it’s essential to remain alert when walking outdoors, particularly in isolated areas. You’re also safer hiking with others than alone in remote places. However, these felines are vital to the environment and play critical roles in the ecosystem.
Featured Image Credit: Miller_Eszter, Pixabay