Range:

Eurasian lynx range from western Europe to northern Asia and the Middle East; Spanish lynx in Spain and Portugal; Canadian lynx and bobcat in North America

Habitat:

Prairies and steppes, scrubland, temperate forests and taiga, and tundra

The eye of the lynx

A lynx’s keen vision earns this cat legendary status in the myths of many cultures. In Greek, Norse, and North American myths, the lynx sees what others can’t, and its role is revealing hidden truths. Even the name lynx pays tribute to the cat’s eyes. It is believed to have come from the Greek word leukos meaning white or bright, possibly a reference to the way the lynx’s eyes shine in the dark due to a reflective structure, the tapetum lucidum. However, glowing eyes aren’t an exclusive trait of lynx—all cats, and many other animals, have them. So what sets this species apart?

Tufts and bobs

When it comes to identifying a cat as a lynx, it’s not the eyes that have it, but the ears. The lynx is known by the tuft of black hair on the tips of its ears and its short or bobbed tail. In fact, one species of lynx is called a bobcat! All lynx have these tufts, but their purpose isn’t completely clear. Some scientists think a lynx uses them like whiskers to detect things above its head. Others think the cluster of hairs enhances the cat’s hearing.

Long legs and a short tail are other traits that link a cat to the lynx group. Most lynx are found in areas that often have deep layers of snow for long periods of time, and their elongated limbs help them maneuver through the habitat. Hair on the underside of their broad paws provides traction on slippery surfaces. An exception is the bobcat Lynx rufus, which doesn’t have furry soles like other lynx and generally doesn’t live in areas of heavy snow.

Siberian lynx commonly hunt prey three to four times their size. They can even kill reindeer when given the opportunity.
The Lynx constellation was so named because it was said to take the keen eyes of a lynx to see it.
The Catskill Mountains in New York were possibly named after the bobcat, a resident of the region.

The San Diego Zoo’s first lynx residents were bobcats that arrived in 1922. A Eurasian lynx came in 1938.

Today, the Zoo is home to Siberian lynx (a subspecies of Eurasian lynx). Skyy and Stoli were gifts to the Zoo from a facility in Russia. Our pair can be found along Big Cat Trail. The two cats make good use of the “furniture” specifically chosen for them. Logs and palm stumps bear evidence of clawing behavior. A large honeysuckle plant creates a shady nook, and a fire-hose hammock in the front corner is covered with cat hair—a sure sign that it is a well-used lounging spot. Sturdy branches crisscross the open space, creating a choice of ways to get from one place to another, and a high stone ledge provides prime viewing of just about anything a lynx would want to watch.

Stoli is outgoing and quite food driven. He’ll rub against the mesh to get his keeper’s attention (and food), but he’ll hiss at the same time. “It’s a small cat thing,” the keeper explains. “They tend to be more cranky.” Skyy is more aloof toward her caregivers but is surprisingly playful when it comes to enrichment objects. She bats around balls and gourds just like a kitten would. She is frisky when it comes to food, too. Their keepers also rub spices and herbs on objects in their exhibit, such as mint, rosemary, cinnamon, and coriander. The only thing they haven’t shown an interest in is catnip!

Skyy and Stoli produced a cub but did not take care of her properly, so the little female was hand raised in the Zoo’s nursery. Named Kisa, she starred in the Animal Planet show “Growing Up Lynx.” The show followed Kisa’s progress during her first year, from her days as a cub to her training to become one of our animal ambassadors. She may be seen walking on a leash around the Zoo, being a part of our Camp Critters show or an animal presentation, or visiting a television studio to help spread the word about wildlife conservation. Read about her parents in the blog, Don't Miss the Lynx.

The world is not a safe place for lynx right now. They are having a harder time finding food as more people move into the cats' habitats. And in some areas, their forest homes are being cut down for agricultural uses. Hunting is still a problem for these beautiful animals, too. The soft, luxurious coat that keeps lynx warm and comfortable in the colder months is also popular in the fur industry, especially the lighter-colored belly fur. It is estimated that about 90,000 bobcat and lynx pelts are sold each year to fur markets. We think the coats look much better on the cats!

The Spanish lynx population currently numbers less than 150 individuals. Sadly, this makes them one of the rarest of all cat species and probably the most endangered carnivore in Europe. What caused their decline? The loss of their main food source, rabbits. In the 1950s, a doctor released a disease called myxomatosis to control the rabbit population in his garden. It worked too well, and the rabbit population was almost wiped out. Ironically, conservationists are now breeding rabbits, vaccinating them against the disease, and releasing them into the wild to replenish the wild rabbit populations and help feed the lynx.