By PATRICIA SIMPSON
On a sunny August mid-morning on Father Junipero Serra Trail, trail guide Wendy Esterly was lucky to spot a gorgeous kitty in the middle of the road. Luckier still, she captured the beautiful feline in a great shot and shared it on iNaturalist! (View at bit.ly/2GggIKh.)
Mission Trails is the proud home of the bobcat (Lynx rufus), a wild cat about twice the size of its domestic cousin. It is always a treasured moment when a visitor spots one, which doesn’t happen often. The ambush predator with a brownish grey fur coat adorned with spots and stripes is a master of camouflage, which allows it to prey on small animals. It is often confused with a bigger relative, the mountain lion, but is much smaller in size and can easily be recognized due to its namesake bobbed tail and tufted ears.
Due to its wide range (U.S., southern Canada, and parts of Mexico) and adaptability to many different habitats (chaparral, woodland, riparian, desert, and others) the bobcat is not threatened. However, in San Diego County, it seems to prefer wild preserves and adjacent canyons, rather than urban landscapes.
Despite a rather safe population status, it is illegal in California to hunt bobcats as of January 2020 and trapping has been forbidden since 2015. Bobcats are a central part of our ecosystem. They help control rodent populations and in turn help vegetation thrive.
A fun fact: Bobcats have white spots on the back of their ears. The spots are called “flashes” and ward off predators. The flashes look like eyes on the back of the cat’s head.
This is possibly how a pair of scientists discovered that painting eyes on cows’ bottoms saves them from predation. Researchers in Botswana borrowed the idea from nature itself and conducted a study that showed that painting eyes on the bovine’s posterior prevented attacks from lions in areas where their territories overlapped. You can read an NPR story about the Botswana experiment at /n.pr/2EMolrz.
— Patricia Simpson is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.