The lynx is a large cat smaller than a mountain lion, but about the same weight as a bobcat. It is characterized by long, black ear tufts, a short black tipped tail, cheek ruffs that look like a double, pointed beard. Its fur is thick, with a tawny color mixed with black hairs. Underneath it is brownish. It has large feet that are thickly furred, which allow it to walk on top of snow, much like snowshoes. Its chin is white. It can be distinguished from a bobcat by less noticeable spotting, and larger ear tufts. Total body length is about 29 to 47 inches (730-1200 mm), its tail length is 2 to 5 3/8 inches (50-140 mm), and they weigh between 12 to 40 pounds (5.2-18 kg).
The lynx ranges throughout Alaska and Canada, south through the Rocky Mountains into Colorado, into the northern Great Lakes, and it is rare in northern New England. It is a classic species of the “north woods”.
The lynx is typically found in northern boreal forests with openings, in regenerating mixed forests, and in rugged outcrops, bogs, and thickets. Like many other large carnivores they are found in remote, wild forests having relatively little human disturbance. In Idaho, this species needs early successional forests for foraging, and mature forests for denning.
It eats primarily small mammals and birds, particularly snowshoe hares. The Hudson Bay Fur company in Canada had years of data showing the relationship between lynx populations and snowshoe hare populations. Snowshoe hare populations cycle on a 9 to 10 year cycle. The lynx populations follows the peaks and lows by about two years, substantiating the strong predator-prey relationship of the two species. It occasionally feeds on squirrels, small mammals, beaver, and will occasionally take a young deer. It also has been known to feed on moose, muskrat, and birds, some of which may be taken as carrion.
Like most cats, lynx are mainly nocturnal, being most active from 2 hours after sunset to 1 hour after sunrise. When inactive, they typically occupy a den in a hollow tree, under a stump, or in thick brush. They are known to cache food. When prey is scarce, their home range increases and individuals may become nomadic. The range of males is larger than that of females. In western U.S., home range is usually between 24-48 km2. Population density is usually less than 10 (locally up to 20) per 100 km2, depending on prey availability, such as the snowshoe hare. In the northern boreal forest, lynx populations seem closely related to the 9 to 10 year population cycle of snowshoe hare, their primary prey species, but there is about a 2 year lag of the lynx population behind the snowshoe hare cycle. Individuals are usually solitary. This species is uncommon in Idaho and was recently listed as “threatened” by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
They breed from March through May in their northern range, and Gestation lasts 62 to 74 days. A female produces 1 litter of 3 to 4 young every 1 to 2 years. Young stay with mother until next mating season or longer. Some females give birth as yearlings. Prey scarcity may suppress breeding.