The scientific name of the lynx, Lynx canadensis, might be translated as “Canadian glarer”. The Latin “lynx” means “glarer” or “one who sees well in dim light”. To francophones, the lynx is “loup-cervier”. This animal belongs to the cat family (Family Felidae), whose members are efficient predators that stalk their prey and have highly specialized teeth for stabbing, slashing and biting. At the turn of the century, the North American lynx population began to decline and, by 1950, had disappeared from the US and some sections of southern Canada. This decline was mainly due to unrestricted trapping. By 1960, the population was re-established throughout much of its former range.
The most widely-distributed of all wild cats, the lynx is found across Canada in boreal forest areas. In northern Ontario, it occupies the same range as the varying hare. It is rare in the agricultural south.
The lynx is lean and stout-bodied. It has long, muscular legs and large feet with toes that spread to give it extra mobility on snow. Its black-tipped tail is very short and blunt, and its tufted ears are long and triangular. It has prominent eyes and a broad, blunt nose. Ruffs of hair form sideburns along its cheeks. The average adult male measures 87.6 cm (34.5 in), and the average adult female, 83.8 cm (33 in). The average weight of an adult of either sex is 7.7 kg (17 lbs), and individuals may range from 5.0 to 15.9 kg (11 to 35 lbs). Although the lynx and the bobcat are about equal in weight, the lynx stands taller at the shoulder, measuring approximately 61.0 cm (2 ft). Longer ear tufts, larger footpads and a tail with a full black tip also help to distinguish the lynx from the bobcat. The lynx’s longhaired coat is a pale grey or buff with brown streaks, and varies with the seasons. In winter the upper parts are grizzled grey and brown with guard hairs that are white at the base, darker in the middle and black at the tips. The crown of the head is brown with white-tipped hairs and the nose and cheeks are grey. The insides of the ears are grey-white edged with buff white, and the backs and edges are brown-black. By late spring, the coat is paler. In summer, it becomes a darker brown and is more grizzled. The lynx moults annually in late spring, and at this time the coat looks worn and ragged. By winter, the pelage is long, thick, silky and loose, giving the animal a fluffy appearance. The immature lynx has a light, fawn-coloured coat that is spotted/streaked with brown and black.
Although the lynx does not reach its full size until two years of age, it can breed during its first year. Breeding takes place in late winter, between January and March. After breeding, the male does not remain with the female. However, when the kittens are born 60 days later, he may return to help provide food. From one to four kittens are born between March and May. This will be the female’s only litter of the year. Weighing 311.0 g (10 oz), the new-borns are completely furred and are blind for the first 10 days of life. They are weaned at two months of age, and begin to explore the world outside the den. The family remains near the den until the end of the first three months, by which time the female has begun to teach the young to capture mice. Later, when their hunting skills improve, they will prey on snowshoe hares. By fall, the young are ready to fend for themselves. Adult pelage is complete by the age of nine months. The life span of the lynx varies between 10 and 20 years.
A creature of the northland, the lynx prefers brush or woodlands and unbroken boreal forests far from human habitation. It rarely ventures into open countryside. Dens are made in hollow trees, tangled thickets, or holes in rocks, as well as under logs, stumps and fallen timber.
Food and Feeding Behaviour
The primary food of the lynx is the snowshoe hare, and it has been estimated that one individual can consume about 170 hares per year. In times of shortage, the lynx also preys on grouse, ptarmigan, waterfowl, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, mice, skunks, porcupines, eggs and fish. Carrion may also be eaten, but plant matter is rarely consumed. Although it is principally a ground-hunter, the lynx will frequently climb trees and jump down on unsuspecting hares. The jump is made with the feet together, and the impact stuns the prey. It is then bitten through the neck or skull. Except for the family excursions that occur when the young are dependent, hunting is a solitary occupation. The lynx is a powerful fighter and a good swimmer, travelling high in the water. It is surprisingly slow on the ground and is easily outrun by a dog or a human. It is curious and may follow a man for hours, but has not been known to attack.
The lynx is shy and usually nocturnal. It is seldom seen even in areas where it is known to be living. When trapped, it becomes submissive. Vocalization consists of mewing sounds made to the kittens and loud, cat-like howls which are particularly noticeable during the mating season. Individuals may wander 80.5 km (50 mi) or more in search of food, but the average home range has a radius of less than 8.1 km (5 mi).
The lynx population undergoes cyclical changes, which correspond to those of the snowshoe hare population. The average duration of each cycle is about 10 years. Cycles usually run approximately one year behind those of the hare population. The lynx migrates extensively when hares are in short supply, and gives birth to fewer young. At such times, the young seldom live beyond their first year. Many adults also die when food is scarce. The lynx’s main enemies are the wolverine and man. Feline distemper, a highly contagious disease with a mortality rate of from 60 to 90 percent, also affects the population. The lynx is plagued with such parasites as fleas, roundworms, flukes and tapeworms.
Studies have been carried out to determine the reproductive success of lynx populations. Such information is necessary to the establishment of quotas. Information provided by trappers helps the district offices of the Ministry to set local quotas.