The terms “wild cats” and “big cats” are typically associated with the larger animals within the Felidae or “feline” species. These animals typically include tigers, lions, cheetahs, cougars, mountain lions, and leopards. These wild cats are generally easy to recognize, though some may have a similar appearance.
Though most big cats such as leopards, lions, and tigers are typically found overseas in areas such as Africa and China, other big cats can be found right here in the United States. States such as Washington, Minnesota, and Montana are home to a few of these cats, thanks to their mountainous regions and cold to moderate temperatures. But the state of Missouri and other Midwestern territories are also home to a few. So, what big cats are commonly seen in Missouri?
The 2 Types of Wild Cats in Missouri
Though Missouri isn’t the most common place to find wild cats (they’re more commonly found in Washington), mountain lions and bobcats can be seen in certain areas of the state, particularly the Ozark and Saint Francois Mountains. It may be difficult to spot these Wildcats due to the mountains in forested areas, but they can be seen from time to time coming down to the hills when looking for food sources.
The bobcat (scientific name: Lynx rufus) is also known as the “red lynx”. They can be found throughout Washington more than in any other states in the US, and they can be found in Missouri during the latter parts of the year.
Bobcat Appearance & Habitat
The average adult male bobcat is about 20-30 pounds in weight and 3 feet in length. Females are only slightly smaller and come in a variety of colors including buff, brown, and grayish brown. Some bobcats may have dark brown or black spots and stripes. They have short black ears and ruffs.
The eastern Washington bobcats are more likely to have a lighter buff or brownish tone than the western Washington ones. Bobcats use rock cliffs, mountains, and ledges as shelter, resting areas, and for raising their young. These wild cats can actually be found all over the US from Delaware and Pennsylvania to California, Minnesota, in Washington.
They can also be found overseas in South America and Canada. They can be found in agricultural areas, meadows, and open fields– particularly when they’re hunting. You won’t see bobcats outside when there is heavy snow on the ground as it reduces their mobility and ability to catch prey.
Diet & Preying Habits
Bobcats, like other wild cats, are carnivores and they have a wide range of food sources, depending on their location. These cats will prey on several wildlife animals as they tend to be very opportunistic and their favorites include mice, gophers, mountain deer, rabbits, and yellow-bellied marmots. These cattle even eat chicken, lambs, and even small pigs if they’re out in the open.
Reproduction & Mating
Bobcats aren’t really the type to travel in groups and will usually be found alone unless they are paired up for mating purposes. The females are usually pregnant for about 60 to 70 days and a litter of anywhere from three to four kittens is typically born.
The female bobcats will hang out around then covered with rocks and dried leaves, in remote caves, or in depressed areas in the ground while the cubs are still young. Then when the cubs are each about 8 months of age, they will disperse out on their own. Young bobcats can be killed by bears, coyotes, owls, and foxes, which often shortens their lifespan.
Bobcats can live up to 10-12 years old in the wild, but their average life expectancy is closer to 5-7 years. Surprisingly, they may live up to 25 years in captivity.
2. Mountain Lions
Mountain lions (scientific name: Puma concolor) are also seen in various areas in Missouri, especially during their breeding season which takes place between late winter and early spring.
Mountain Lion Appearance & Habitat
Mountain lions (aka “cougars”) are about two to three times the size of bobcats and they have a light cinnamon or tawny color. Their chest is usually dark and the backs of their ears, and tips of their tails are white. Adult males can grow to more than 6-8 feet in length and weigh between 130-180 pounds.
Adult females can be as long as seven feet in length and weigh between 90 to 105 pounds. Even their kittens are larger than Bobcats and lynxes and their tails are about one-third their body length.
As long as there is enough prey, mountain lions can be found in many habitats across the US. These wildcats are often seen in Washington and Minnesota and are likely to be found in remote areas that are heavily forested, though there have been confirmed reports from areas where they were also seen. These wild cats can also be found in the desert of California, Mexico, Argentina, and British Columbia.
Diet & Preying Habits
In many midwestern states, such as Missouri and Idaho, mule deer may make up as much as 70% of mountain lions’ diet during the year. They will also eat large and small mammals, such as rabbits, coyotes, squirrels, and bighorn sheep.
These cats are also very opportunistic and will even eat insects and reptiles– this is especially the case when mothers are feeding their kittens. Sometimes these cats prey on cattle and sheep, and occasionally other livestock.
Reproduction & Mating
The average pregnancy for these big cats lasts between 82 and 96 days. Most births take place between April and September and their average litter size is between 1 and 6 kittens. However, if a litter fails to survive, the female can have litters in subsequent years.
The female lion is responsible for raising the children after they have been bred. Shortly after breeding, the male leaves the female. The kittens are weaned after 2-3 months, but they remain with their mother for another 1-2 years. Adolescent mountain lions are ready to reproduce when they are about 2-3 years old.
A mountain lion’s natural lifespan is about 10-12 years in the wild and anywhere from 15-25 years in captivity. Other large predators like lions, bears, and in California, wolves are their natural enemies. They are also vulnerable to road hazards, accidents, and common feline-related diseases.
Wrapping Things Up
Though the state of Missouri isn’t home to many wildcats outside of mountain lions and bobcats, visitors may be able to spot these cats in the mountainous areas of the state during their breeding season. These animals typically aren’t considered a threat to be in danger at the moment.
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Featured Image Credit: outdoorsman, Shutterstock