Continuing our look at Cat lineages we come to the fifth lineage divergence and the ancestor of the Lynx species. The split is believed to have occurred around 7.2 million years ago with the Lynx lineage containing four separate species in one genus. Distributions of the Lynx species are split between North America for bobcats and the Canadian Lynx and Eurasia for the Iberian and Eurasian Lynx. All four species have the distinctive ear tufts and bobbed tails. The name Lynx comes from the Greek word “to shine,” in reference to the reflective ability of the cat’s eyes. In mythology Lynx are also supposed to have supernatural eyesight, capable of seeing through solid objects.
It’s believed of the four Lynx cats the Bobcat was the first to diverge from the other three an estimated 3 million years ago. Bobcats are around twice the size of a domestic cat if not bigger and interestingly their size varies depending on distribution with body sizes increasing with elevation and the largest individuals found in the Northern most regions. Bobcats unfortunately are the most heavily traded of the felids with demand for its fur at record highs since the 1960’s.
The Canadian Lynx is the Bobcats closest relative with a distinct divergence estimated only around 1.5 million years ago. Canadian Lynx are on average taller and slightly larger than bobcats with large hind legs giving them their distinct appearance. Canadian Lynx have the largest of all paws in relation to body size allowing them to distribute their weight like a snowshoe helping it manoeuvre during a chase with their favourite food, the Snowshoe hare.
The Eurasian Lynx is the largest Lynx species and has by far the largest distribution of all the small wild cats ranging right across Asia and Europe. Because of this broad distribution range there are as many as nine subspecies of Eurasian lynx. As you would imagine for a widely dispersed cat they have a broad habitat tolerance from forests to woodlands to Mountains to semi desert areas, they are able to adapt to most conditions.
The Iberian Lynx is the most endangered cat in the world with an estimated 400 individuals left in the wild. They were classed as Critically Endangered in 2002, and upgraded to Endangered in 2015 when numbers started to increase. They are distributed scarcely across Southern Spain and Portugal. The decline of Iberian Lynx numbers was mainly due to an out-break of myxomatosis in rabbits across Europe, whilst other animals managed to source other foods, rabbits made up 75-93% of their diet and had a major impact. Whilst numbers are increasing and conservation efforts seemingly working the threat to the Iberian Lynx still remains.
Next time we will be looking at the Puma Lineage.