Canadian Lynx

(Lynx canadensis)

Canadian Lynx


The Canada lynx is like a gray ghost of the north–elusive, evading human contact. It stands about 20 inches tall at the shoulder but weighs about 20 pounds–scarcely more than a large house cat. It is readily recognized by its long, black ear tufts; short, black-tipped tail; and large, rounded feet with furry pads, which permit it to walk on the snow\’s surface.


Historically, the Canada lynx ranged from Alaska across Canada and into many of the northern U.S. states. In eastern states, it lived in a transition zone in which boreal coniferous forests yielded to deciduous forests. In the West, it preferred subalpine coniferous forests of mixed age. It would den and seek protection from severe weather in mature forests with downed logs but hunt for its primary prey, the snowshoe hare, in young forests with more open space.


In the northern part of its range, the lynx serves as one half of a classic predator-prey relationship, feeding almost exclusively on the snowshoe hare, a large northern rabbit that wears a brown coat in summer and a white one in winter. The two species evolved together; the cat becoming a specialist in killing the hare, the hare becoming adept at eluding the lynx. The lynx kills an average of one hare every two or three days. It will turn to killing grouse, rodents, and other animals if hares become scarce. The link between lynx and hare is so tight in the north that the two species\’ populations fluctuate in almost perfect synchrony.

Hare populations follow a natural cyclical pattern, changing approximately every ten years from abundance to scarcity and back to abundance. Adult lynx usually survive periods of hare scarcity, but their kittens often do not. As a result, the lynx population follows a similar pattern, with its peaks and valleys lagging one to two years behind those of the hare. Lynx populations south of the Canadian border were probably never as abundant or dense as the more northern populations.


The diet of lynx in these southern areas is more varied–including squirrels, small rodents, grouse, and hares–and the populations are less dense and less productive than their northern counterparts. This low density and productivity makes southern lynx populations especially vulnerable to the everincreasing human activities that affect the abundance of the lynx\’s prey base in these regions, or that may cause lynx to avoid areas of otherwise acceptable habitat.


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