Florida’s wild cats
I wrote about feral cats earlier in the year and promised to elaborate on Florida’s native cats later. Other cats that visit your yards and neighborhoods may be those native cats such as bobcats and panthers. Often these animals hunt at night but occasionally are spotted during the day. Spotting either cat is not a common occurrence.
Bobcats are probably more common than you might imagine. They are rarely seen because they are stealthy and often nocturnal. A large bobcat would be twice the size of a house cat and could weigh up to 35 lbs. Its tail is short, usually eight inches or less. It’s coat is tan or light brown. Most of the bobcats body is covered with spots. Keeping livestock such as chickens and rabbits may draw these animals near your home. Usually bobcats have a diet of birds, squirrels, rabbits, or rodents. They may also occasionally take larger mammals as prey. They will occasionally eat a house cat and may eat small domestic livestock if pens and enclosures are not secure. The best way to eliminate those problems is to make sure your domestic animals are secured. Trapping and moving is ineffective and may be illegal. Check out this EDIS article from the University of Florida: How to Use Traps to Catch Nuisance Wildlife in Your Yard. There is a hunting season on bobcats from December 1st until March 31st. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations of discharging firearms in certain areas. and that you have the proper hunting license.
Florida Panthers are much rarer to see than bobcats and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. You are fortunate if you have spotted one of these cats. I have never seen one in the wild and I have spent a lot of time in the woods. Best estimate is that there is less than two hundred of these cats in the Florida. It was previously believed that female cats are not found north of the Caloosahatchee River that connects southern Lake Okeechobee with the Gulf of Mexico but only recently they have identified females on game camera to prove that has changed. Males have been found as far as north Florida where it is still believed females are not going. Panthers are a much larger cat than a bobcat, up to 160 pounds, with a tail much longer than a bobcat’s. They are usually described as being tawny colored, a yellowish tan, with white under the chin. The back of the ears are black. It is a common mistake to think you have spotted a black panther. Black panthers are a color variation of a Leopard and found in Africa or Asia. Panthers or Puma have never been found with any other color variations other than what is described as tan or tawny. Poor light or shadowing may explain mistaking panthers as black.
Panthers or Puma have never been found with any other color variations other than what is described as tan or tawny
A South American cat called a Jaguarondi is a darker colored cat that some people believe may have small populations in Florida. There is no solid evidence that they are in Florida but supposedly there was a road kill found in 1961. This may have been an escaped domesticated pet. A smaller cat than the Florida Panther but its dark color and long tail could possibly explain sightings of black panthers.
There is not much you can do when these cats visit your yard other than securing your own animals. They are part of Florida’s wild and have a place in the landscaping with the rest of Florida’s Fauna.