- HB Length: 76-106 cm (30-42″)
- Tail Length: 5-12 cm (2-5″)
- Height: 60-65 cm (24-26″)
- Weight: 5-17 kg (13-29 lbs)
- Pop. Trend: Stable
Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis are the most common and widespread feline in Canada. They are easily recognizable cats with their black ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and very short tail. They can only be confused with the closely related Bobcat Lynx rufus in the southern part of their range. A closer look, however, reveals a number of differences. The Lynx has longer legs and broader footpads for walking in deep snow. Their ear tufts are longer, and the facial ruff is more developed. Their tail has a black tip, while the Bobcat’s is more striped and white underneath. These two cat species seem to have divided the continent up between them, with the Bobcat being limited by snow depth to southern Canada through to Central Mexico, and the Canada Lynx in the northern forests.
The usual background colour of the fur is a silvery grey or grey brown, but can vary to yellowish‑grey and rusty or reddish‑brown. The fur is usually white tipped, giving the animal a frosted appearance. Their thick, soft pelt can be variably marked with more or less distinct dark spots, and sometimes small stripes. A rare pallid colour phase suggesting partial albinism is known as the ‘Blue Lynx’. There is a distinct ruff of long hairs framing the face; the ears are large and pointed with irises of a yellow brown to a light yellowish‑green. The legs are long, with the rear limbs longer than the front ones, giving the body a tilted forward or slightly stooped appearance. The footpads are broad and well furred, and the tail is very short and black tipped.
The ears have long, erect tufts of dark hairs, and black backsides towards the tip. These tufts are just as sensitive as their whiskers, and the slightest breath of wind can be detected by the cat.
Canada Lynx live mainly in boreal forests or in mixed deciduous/boreal woodlands, but can live in farmlands if they are interspersed with wooded areas. They favour forests with dense undercover vegetation such as thickets and deadfalls, with marshy areas and rocky outcrops.
Their total range in North America is 7.7 million km2, and their historic range is largely intact, although it has shrunk in the south due to human settlement and forest clearance.
Their range follows that of their main prey species, the snowshoe hare. The Canada Lynx is the only known felid to undergo prey-driven cyclic population declines. Densities peak at 17-45/100 km2, falling to 2-3/100 km2 during the low cycle.
Lynx have been recorded travelling long distances, up to 1,200 km, seeking out patches of hare abundance. A study in the Yukon found home ranges increased from 13.2 km2 to 39 km2 when the hare population was low. Several cats abandoned their home ranges during this period, and many dispersed 250 km or more.
Over two hundred years of records from the Hudson’s Bay fur company show that the Lynx population fluctuates in an eight to 11 year cycle, in response to fluctuations in the numbers of the snowshoe hare. Hares breed profusely through several summers when food is plentiful, and may reach 1,800/km2 at the peak of the cycle. Overpopulation means they eventually wipe out their food supply and their numbers plummet. Lynx populations follow the hare cycle with a lag of one or two years.
Lynx favour mid-sized prey in order to compensate for the immense amount of energy expended to catch it. Other prey species may be taken opportunistically, or when hare numbers are low. It takes 50 voles to equal the food energy from one snowshoe hare, however, and the voles live beneath the snow cover in the winter. Hares are active year round.
Carnivore populations are increasingly confined to reserves surrounded by human developments. The boundaries of these ecological islands are risky because of habitat loss and human-carnivore conflict. However, a five-winter study in Riding Mountain National Park, Canada found the highest relative probability of lynx occurrence was along the southeast border of the park in close proximity to a human community and a lake used for winter recreational use such as snowmobiling and skiing. Researchers attributed this to a 25 year old fire which has since created successional habitat highly suitable for the snowshoe hare. Their results suggest Canada Lynx occurrence is associated with habitat that is highly suitable for their primary prey, even if that habitat is located near humans.
Lynx are mainly terrestrial and nocturnal, although they may also hunt during the day if prey is scarce. Lynx are thought to hunt mainly by sight and hearing, relying on smell to a lesser extent. They usually stalk their prey to within a few bounds before pouncing, but they are also known to wait in ambush for hours.
Rivers are often thought to act as barriers to the movement of terrestrial mammals, limiting dispersal and gene flow. In 2011, researchers in Alaska observed two Canada Lynx repeatedly swim across a glacial-fed river in November. Lynx are also known to cross the St. Lawrence River and the Strait of Belle Isle in Canada when they are ice-covered in winter months. If lynx use ice-bridges to disburse in winter, climate warming could cause a reduction in the extent and longevity of this sea ice, isolating populations.
Although classed as solitary animals, researchers often see groups of paired females. Female kittens establish home ranges close to that of their mothers, and travel and hunt cooperatively.
Mating occurs in late winter to early spring in most areas (March ‑ April in Alaska, April ‑ May in Alberta). The female mates with only one male, and the receptive period can last from one to ten days. Mating usually takes place at night, and the males are especially vocal at this time. Dens can be made in hollow logs, at the base of trees, in rocky areas or in dense vegetation. One to six kittens are born after a gestation period of 63 ‑70 days. In years of low prey availability, females may not conceive at all, or may spontaneously abort in response to the body’s poor nutritional condition. Lynx kittens average 197 ‑211 grams at birth. Their eyes open between ten and 17 days, and they begin to walk at 24 ‑30 days. The kittens nurse for three to five months, but begin to eat some solid food at one month of age. The young remain with the adult female until the following winter mating season. Young lynx may remain together for some weeks or months after separating from the female, travelling and hunting cooperatively. Sexual maturity is reached around 23 months, although in periods of prey abundance, sexual maturity at ten months has been recorded. Captive Canada Lynx have lived up to 21 years, and life expectancy for wild animals has been recorded at 15 years.
Throughout Alaska and most of Canada, the Lynx is managed for the fur trade. During the cyclic low in the 1980’s most areas reduced harvests. From 1980-1984 an average of 35,669 pelts were exported from Canada and Alaska. That number fell to 7,360 between 1986-1989. The population is considered stable in the northern portion of their range.
Canada Lynx are rare and protected where they occur in south-eastern Canada. They are classed as regionally endangered in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where researchers have reported fertile hybrids between Canada Lynx and the Bobcat. The primary threat to the cats in these areas is the expanding population of the eastern coyote.
Research has shown the southern range boundary of Lynx in central Canada has contracted northward by more than 175 km since the 1970’s, and that high winter temperatures, low snow depth, and low proportion of suitable habitat are strongly correlated with low genetic diversity.
Lynx distribution has contracted by 40% from its historical range, and hybridization with Bobcats is a potential threat along its southern limit. A continental scale assessment found that relevance of hybrids was low, but also found evidence that Lynx-Bobcat hybrids are able to breed. If the abundance of Canada Lynx at the southern edge of its distribution is low relative to Bobcats, gene mixing over several years could result in the loss of Lynx in those areas. If climate warming shifts the Bobcat population northward, the likelihood of hybridization could increase.
From 1999 onward, 204 Lynx from Canada and Alaska were relocated into the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado. This population has become well established, and researchers are reporting increasing numbers of kittens born each year.
In the United States, Canada Lynx were historically found in 25 states, but now just 111,730 km2 of critical Lynx habitat has been proposed for designation in Maine, Minnesota, Washington and the Rocky Mountains. The main threat to these cats in the USA is habitat fragmentation.
Range map IUCN Red List (2008)