Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
- Type: Mammal
- Family: Felidae
- Habitat: Dense forests, rocky areas, and tundra
- Location: Across Canada and Alaska and into some parts of the northern United States
- Diet: Small mammals, mainly snowshoe hares and rodents, but also fish, birds, and deer
- Average lifespan in the wild: 10-20 years
- Size: Length 27 to 43 in (70 to 110 cm); tail 2-6 in (5-16 cm)
- Weight: 11 to 37 lbs (5-17 kg)
Many animals hibernate or migrate to warmer climates in winter, but Canadian lynx are specially adapted to endure cold weather. In addition to a thick winter coat, the lynx has wide, padded, furry paws that work like snowshoes to help the big cat survive winter’s difficult conditions. The Canadian lynx is probably descended from its Eurasian counterpart, which lives in Europe and Siberia. Most likely, ancestors of the modern Canadian lynx migrated across a land bridge during a glacial period, and adapted to their new habitat. The Eurasian lynx is similar in appearance to the Canadian lynx, but nearly twice the size, and mainly hunts large ungulates. Canadian lynx are much better adapted for hunting smaller prey like rabbits.
In fact, snowshoe hares are the main source of prey for Canadian lynx. The population dynamics of Canadian lynx are actually linked to snowshoe hare population cycles, which boom every ten years. A year or two after snowshoe hare populations reach their highest numbers, so do the populations of Canadian lynx. The same is true with lulls—when snowshoe hares are less plentiful, Canadian lynx populations shrink.
Like all cats, the Canadian lynx has exceptional night vision, thanks to a layer of mirror-like cells in their eyes called the tapetum lucidum. Light that is unabsorbed by the retinal receptor layer hits the tapetum lucidum and is reflected right back at the retinal receptor layer for another chance at absorption. This is why cat eyes shine in the dark. Their sensitive whiskers, quick reflexes and acute hearing also help the lynx hunt at night.
Particular to the lynx is its characteristic short tail, long legs, and tufts of black hair at the tips of its ears. Their fur is very soft, and lynx have long been hunted for their coats. Some populations were almost driven to extinction during the 1950s and 60s, when demand for cat furs was at its peak. Lynx are still hunted today, but protection measures and a decreasing demand for furs are helping the species.
Did you know: Mother lynx have been observed hunting cooperatively with their offspring.
Photo by Art G.