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On the Prowl

Everyone gets all excited. . "A panther!" Then they see the bobbed tail tipped in white-unlike the long, curved panther tail-or note the unmistakable black spots and bars on the legs and rear. At that point, most observers turn away, muttering, "It's only a bobcat." It's enough to give a cat a complex.

Don't they know, pound for pound, the bobcat (Lynx rufus) is not only one of the wildest, least tamable of the cats, but also one of the strongest on the planet, and enormously adaptable? Bobcats, which are common throughout Florida and most of North America, have been around a long time and won't go extinct anytime soon..

These 20-25 pound cats can bring down a deer, not by breaking its neck, as a panther does, but by choking it. Deer meat is a luxury, as is an occasional feral pig; mostly, bobcats survive on small rodents and are also quite efficient at controlling rabbits. They also eat birds, including chickens, reptiles and, it is said, the occasional house cat.

Like most cats, bobcats are loners, marking their often overlapping territories with scent from anal glands, urine and feces. They come together only to breed. Females aggressively seek a mate. They scream horror movie-type screams: "Here I am and I am ready." Bobcats purr, too. Would it be too much to infer happiness, or the cat equivalent?

Melanism, though not common, occurs in bobcats but never in panthers, so that famous "black panther" that many have seen is probably "just a bobcat."

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