A panther crossing sign in the foreground with a speeding car in the background

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
A Bobcat stands on a wooden ramp in captivity

Bobcat in captivity. Photo from IFAS Communications

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.

Panthers

Large panther walking. Photo courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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

Jaguarondis

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.

I’m David Austin, your Hometown Gardener.
Read Highlands county Extensions other blogs at http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/highlandsco/

23 Comments on “Florida’s wild cats

  1. We saw a gray colored “ bobcat” ilike cat tonight. I would say at least 12-14 lbs if not more based upon my cat who is thin and weighs about 6 lbs. he showed his face on Singer Island and took off after checking us out

  2. I live in Niceville Florida on the eastern side of the Eglin golf course over the years there’s been spotting‘s of a large cat with a long tail that’s been bushy in a flat face the cats is dark in color. About one year ago three were spotted together .could this be the jaguaronda?

    • The description sounds correct but there is no real proof. Others have told about possible populations across the state but until one shows up as a roadkill or otherwise it would be hard to prove. Lots of people have game cams now but I have not seen any show up in photos either. Thanks for taking the time to read the article.

  3. I live on a golf course and nature preserve in North Naples. At dusk on Christmas Eve a tawny colored cat with characteristic bobcat ears and face (paler than the body in color), 2.5-3 feet in length cautiously stepped through the perimeter between my lanai screen and the bordering brush/woods stared at me as a cat would. At the end of its relatively long and bushy tail, it had several white rings at the end. I’ve looked over the images of bobcats and young panthers, but none seem right. Any ideas? A feral cross-bred cat? Thanks is advance.

    • Bob, I have no idea. Feral cats are not supposed to cross with bobcats although I know some people that claim they do. I got the attached photo off my porch. It could be a Manx cross but I found the long back leg to be more like a bobcats. Something to think about but no real proof of there existence. I will send the photo from a different account since I am not sure how to do it from this one. David Austin

  4. Bob Lavery

    i posted a comment last month which may have not been received, but I’d love to get your opinion on what appeared at twilight one evening to be a Bobcat in every respect (size, tawney color, distinctive Bobcat “face” and behavior), except for its long bushy tail with white rings at the end. We live in North Naples in a preserve/golf community east of I 75 that borders on woods and has plenty of rabbits. I’ve seen squirrels with similar tails but this creature was 2-3X the size. A panther doesn’t fit either. I suppose a feral cat/mutant is a possibility. Thanks for your help.

  5. Is it common for a bobcat and panther to be “travelling” together? We’ve had several sightings of this unusual pairing recently near Shell Creek reservoir in Punta Gorda, Florida. Homesteads here are rural and 3-5 acres.

    • Hi Staci, yes, it would be very unusual. There are not very many female Panther north of the Caloosahatchee river. Possibly a Young male panther that was lonely. The two cannot crossbreed together and both animals are generally loners unless mating. Mating happens over a short period and then they would both go their separate ways. Very unusual. You should carry your camera with you! Sincerely, David Austin Hometown Gardener on Facebook

  6. I was out watering a plant and low and behold a what looked like a mix of panther and bobcat ran about 50 ft in front of me and then a bobcat ran the other way also . Within minutes a rabbit ran out . I live in Punta Gorda in the country Area

  7. There’s is a bobcat carcass on side of ocoee-apopka Rd in Ocoee Fl 34761

  8. I live outside of Tallahassee and I have seen a Jaugaronda three times in the last 20 years. The latest spotting was around 2 weeks ago.

    • David, you are not the first I have heard these stories from. Many very compelling. With all of the Game Cams up you would think we would have a photo by now. David Austin

  9. Are these 2 and possibly 3 large cat predators the only ones? Or is there a possibility of other large cat predators? We live in a highly forested area, well it was. They keep clearing space for more and more unnecessary apartments, homes, stores, etc and I have seen large predators run by but have never been close enough (thank goodness) to identify. And it’s usually late and these animals are fast!! We have wild deer, rabbits, boar, large cats, etc and I’m just wondering what else there could be because like I said have seen other large, fast animals and just could not identify. We have a small/medium dog and my daughter takes him out and sometimes she takes him out super late and want to inform her on signs/animals/noises to look out for. Thank you!!

  10. I saw an extremely strange and exotic looking wild cat near Punta Gorda. I have seen wild cats in the northern climes, none of which looked like this short haired speed. Spotted cat that is thin with long legs and a small head.

  11. My son and i were playing golf today in Carabelle. We were driving back to St. George about 5:30 pm and a large (twice the size of a house cat), long, and lean (but muscular) cat bounded across the road in front of us. It had a long tail and had a solid bronze short-haired coat. I looked at some pictures of jaguarondis after reading your blog and it looked pretty darn similar. I had to google it as soon as we got back to our beach house because it was so unusual. I honestly don’t believe it was a feral cat.

  12. Could there be a ring tailed cat on Elgin South of Duke field. I saw a long tailed animal on the side of the highway about 5 years ago and try to spot it again whenever I drive through there. It had a body like I would think a lemur does. Then tonight I saw on a wildlife page that North American has something like a raccoon that got the discription!

    • Hi Melanie, there are a lot of weird reporting of strange animals. I suppose exotics can escape and roam the local woods. Someone near Naples also mentioned seeing a ring tailed cat-like animal. 30 years ago before everyone had a game camera it seemed a lot more possible that these animals were around. Now that digital cameras are catching images all over the state you would think these animals would be captured on film. As many people that describe Jaguaranda type cats we should be getting them on game cameras. Very odd indeed.

  13. I live in Palm Beach County and have been running a trail camera outside my gate at night. I’ve been seeing what is either a very tall stray tom cat (domestic feline) or a hybrid. It’s hard to decipher his coloring in the IR light but I estimate him to be at least 12″ at the shoulder, very slender with a long tail. His hind legs are much longer than the front. Can bobcats interbreed with domestic cats?

    • Hi Lynne, I have a photo of a cat that fits the same type of description. According to most things I have read, bobcats should not be able to cross with domestic cats. I have heard others swear that they believed they did. I would love to see your photos. If you could email them to davidaustin@ufl.edu I will send the photo I took at my own home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *