Lynx canadensisCanada lynx

Geographic Range

Major populations of Canadian lynx, Lynx canadensis, are found throughout Canada, in western Montana, and in nearby parts of Idaho and Washington. There are small populations in New England and Utah and possibly in Oregon, Wyoming and Colorado as well.


Lynx usually live in mature forests with dense undergrowth but can also be found in more open forests, rocky areas or tundra.

Physical Description

The coloration of lynx varies, but is normally yellowish-brown. The upper parts may have a frosted, gray look and the underside may be more buff. Many individuals have dark spots. The tail is quite short and is often ringed and tipped with black. The fur on the body is long and thick. The hair is particularly long on the neck in winter. The triangular ears are tipped with tufts of long black hairs. The paws are quite large and furry, helping to distribute the weight of the animal when moving on snow.

Head-body length is between 670 and 1,067 mm and tail length ranges from 50 to 130 mm. Amimals typically weigh between 4.5 and 17.3 kg. On average, males weigh slightly more than females. (Tumlison, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    4.5 to 17.3 kg
    9.91 to 38.11 lb
  • Range length
    670 to 1,067 mm
    26.38 to in


The mating system of these animals is not reported. However, female home ranges are usually encompassed by the home range of a male, and the home ranges of multiple females may overlap. This distribution, in conjuction with the slight sexual dimorphism, indicate that the species is probably polygynous.

Females enter estrus only once per year and raise one litter per year. Estrus lasts 1 to 2 days. Mating in February and March is folowed by a gestation period of from 8 to 10 weeks. Litters typically have 2 or 3 kittens, though the number may range from 1 to 5. Lynx weigh about 200 g at birth. Lactation lasts for 5 months, although kittens eat some meat as early as one month of age.

Males do not participate in parental care. Young remain with the mother until the following winter's mating season, and siblings may remain together for a while after separation from the mother. Females reach sexual maturity at 21 months and males at 33 months.

  • Breeding interval
    Lynx can breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in January and February.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    56 to 70 days
  • Average weaning age
    150 days
  • Average time to independence
    10 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    21 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    498 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    33 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    573 days

Females give birth to their young in fallen logs, stumps, clumps of timber, or similar tangles of roots and branches. This, one assumes, helps to protect the young from potential predators.

All parental care is provided by females. Young are altricial at birth, but have well-developed pelage. Nursing lasts for about 5 months, after which the young eat prey. Mothers may help to educate their young in hunting techniques, and cooperative hunting has been observed.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning


In the wild, lynx have lived as long as 14.5 years. In captivity, lifespans of 26.75 years have been recorded.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    14.5 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    26.75 (high) years


Lynx are solitary and seem to be territorial. Although the home ranges of females may overlap, males occupy distinct areas. Male home ranges may include the range of one or more females and their young. Ranges vary in size from 11 to 300 square kilometers. Adults typically avoid each other except during the winter breeding season.

Lynx are primarily visual predators but also have well-developed hearing. They hunt mainly at night. Prey are normally stalked to within a few short bounds and then pounced upon, although some lynx will wait in ambush for hours.

Females and young sometimes hunt for hares cooperatively by spreading out in a line and moving through relativley open areas. Prey scared up by one animal is often caught by others in the line. This method of hunting can be quite successful and may be important in the education of the young in hunting technique.

Activity is almost entirely nocturnal. Lynx den in rough nests under rock ledges, fallen trees or shrubs.

  • Range territory size
    11 to 300 km^2

Home Range

Ranges vary in size from 11 to 300 square kilometers.

Communication and Perception

Communication and perception are probably similar to that of other cats. In addition to having good vision to facilitate hunting, these animals have excellent hearing. Scents are probably used in marking territories. Tactile communication is likely to occur between mates, as well as between mothers and their offspring. Communication through vocalizations occurs as well.

Food Habits

Canadian lynx are strictly carnivores. Snowshoe hares are of particular importance in the diet of these cats, and populations of the two are known to fluctuate in linked cycles with periods of about 9.6 years. In these cycles, there is a slight lag between hare and lynx populations. Although in some areas, such as Cape Breton Island, lynx prey exclusively on hares, in other areas they also take rodents, birds and fish.

In the fall and winter, lynx will kill and eat deer and other large ungulates that are weakened by the rutting season. They also utilize carcasses left by human hunters.

Canadian lynx only eat meat. Snowshoe hares are a very important food for these cats, and when there are fewer hares to eat, the number of lynx decreases. In some areas, such as Cape Breton Island, lynx eat only hares, but in other areas they also feast on rodents, birds and fish. If they can find a deer that is very weak or sick, lynx will kill and eat it. They also feed off carcasses left by human hunters.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • fish
  • carrion


Predators of these cats have not been reported. However, one can assume that young kittens are vulnerable to other large carnivores, such as wolves and bears.

Ecosystem Roles

As predators, Canadian lynx are important in regulating the populations of their prey. This is particularly noticeable in the cycle of populations of lynx and snowshoe hares.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Canadian lynx have been exploited for their fur since the seventeenth century. With restrictions on trade in furs of large cats in the late 1960's, and subsequent reduction of ocelot and margay populations by fur trappers, increased attention has been focused on the pelts of Canadian lynx. However, it seems that the greatest pressure on populations of lynx remains the size of hare populations, not trappers. Lynx help control populations of small mammals, such as snowshoe hares and voles, that are agricultural or silvicultural pests.

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Canadian lynx are not known to have a negative impact on human economies.

Conservation Status

Lynx are listed in CITES Appendix II, and they are listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and endangered in the state of Michigan.

Other Comments

Lynx populations are affected by reductions in hare populations through increased mortality among kittens and reduced pregnancy rates. Indeed, the only direct affect on adults seems to be hunger and not increased mortality. Litters are larger and kittens healthier in years when hare populations are large and food is plentiful.


David L. Fox (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tiffany Murphy (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Kitchener, A. 1991. The Natural History of the Wild Cats. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, NY.

Nowak, R. M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Turbak, G. 1985. A tale of two cats. International Wildlife, 14:4-11.

IUCN, 1996. "Cat Specialist Group: Species Accounts: Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis)" (On-line). Accessed November 6, 2001 at

Tumlison, R. 1999. Canada lynx| Lynx canadensis . Pp. 233-234 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press in Association with the American Society of Mammalogists.