Whether you’re deep in the bayou or having a drink in your backyard, if you see a cat that’s definitely not a housecat, it will probably take you by surprise. Wild cats are usually shy and active at night, so it’s a real trick to spot one. But that doesn’t mean that they’re rare. Mississippi has only one wild cat species, the bobcat, but these cats make their home all over the state. In the past, cougars also lived in Mississippi.
With reddish-tan fur and a black-speckled coat, bobcats are beautiful to look at. These cats are found in most of the United States, including Mississippi. There are a lot of habitats that they love in this state, from pine forests to swampy bays, and the abundance of wilderness gives them plenty of space to live. They eat primarily small mammals and birds, although they can also hunt larger prey when needed. These cats aren’t just found in the woods, either—they’ve begun to adapt to living in suburban areas.
Bobcat vs Domestic Cat
Bobcats don’t look much like house pets up close, but you might not be sure what you’ve seen if you don’t get a good look. Luckily, quite a few giveaways can tell you that you’re looking at a genuine wild cat. The first one is size. Bobcats are usually between 20 and 30 pounds. That’s about two to three times the size of a house cat. Bobcats also have shortened tails, with black stripes running down them and a lighter underside. Although genes give cats stubby tails, a short tail is a good sign you’re looking at a wild cat. Try to look at the cat’s ears as well—bobcats have a slight tuft of fur at the tips.
Along with looking at shape and size, keep an eye out for a bobcat’s coloring as well. House cats come in all sorts of coat colors, but they don’t usually have the distinctive spotted pattern of a bobcat. And bobcats only come in a small range of coat colors—from grayish to brownish to reddish, with darker markings.
Is the Cougar Gone Forever?
Although bobcats are the only species found in Mississippi today, there was once another. Mountain lions, also called cougars or pumas, once were among the most powerful predators to stalk the area. Although they’re technically not a big cat species, don’t try telling that to a cougar. Clocking in at six feet or more from nose to tail tip and weighing up to 250 pounds, these cats can pack a powerful punch.
Although they usually won’t attack humans, they are more than capable of causing damage. However, as settlers spread throughout the US, they generally didn’t take kindly to being neighbors with a six-foot-long predator.
Cougar populations declined steadily through the 19th and 20th centuries, and today most cougars live west of the Rockies. The nearest permanent home for cougars is in Florida, but occasionally these cats roam thousands of miles, so it isn’t impossible to see one far from home. Perhaps one day, cougar populations will be restored in Mississippi.
Bobcats are doing well in Mississippi, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect their habitat. Wild areas throughout Mississippi bring natural beauty to the state and provide homes for all kinds of plants and animals, and protecting these wild spaces helps everyone. As for the bobcats, keep an eye out—you never know where you might spot one.
Featured Image Credit: Geoffrey Kuchera, Shutterstock