Florida is home to two wild cats, the Florida Bobcat and the Florida Panther. Both are elusive, and wild encounters are pretty rare. Despite both cats being shy and enjoying a life of solitude, they also have their differences.
For the most part, Florida Bobcats are much smaller than Florida Panthers, and they can be exotic pets in some states. Florida Panthers are classified as big cats and are an endangered species. Learning about these cats’ distinct qualities can help us understand how to best care for them and protect them in the wild.
At a Glance
Florida Bobcat Overview
Characteristics & Appearance
Bobcats are among the smallest wild cat species. Some can get to as large as 50 inches in length. However, most Florida Bobcats, or Lynx rufus floradanus, are about twice the size of an average domesticated house cat. Males can be slightly larger than females.
Florida Bobcats have a mix of brown, tan, and white hair and can have speckles scattered all over their coat. They have relatively short snouts when compared to other wild cat species. The backs of their ears are black and can also have white spots on them. Bobcats are most notably known for their short, “bobbed” tail, which is how they got their name. The tips of the tail are often black.
Florida Bobcats can have mixed temperaments, depending on their upbringing. Wild Florida Bobcats are fairly elusive and aren’t known to attack humans. They prefer to keep to themselves and won’t strike preemptively unless they’re provoked. Mother Bobcats are likely to attack if you try to touch her kittens.
Florida Bobcats kept as exotic pets can become affectionate towards one or two people. They’re still quite solitary and may be unable to live with other animals. Early handling and socialization are key to success, but these wild cats can’t become fully domesticated, like dogs or house cats. Prospective owners must be accepting of the fact that some Florida Bobcats may not be fully trusted and unsupervised around other pets or young children.
Different states will have different rules and regulations for exotic pets, and within each state, counties will have their own rules. So, make sure to contact your local municipality to find out how you can legally keep a Bobcat as an exotic pet.
Florida Panther Overview
Characteristics & Appearance
The Panther is a species of large cats that are usually brown or black and have spots on their coats. It’s not to be mistaken with the Florida Panther, which is believed to be part-Cougar and has tan fur rather than a dark coat.
Florida Panthers are born with spots and have blue eyes. However, the spots will eventually fade to tan, and the eye color changes to yellow hues as the panther matures. These cats have much longer tails than Florida Bobcats, and the tails are rounded at the end.
Florida Panthers are larger than Florida Bobcats and are much rarer to find. While Florida Bobcats can live in urban areas, Florida Panthers live in pinelands and swamp forests. However, some wild Florida Panthers may be seen crossing human property in more rural areas.
While some states don’t have heavy regulations for ownership of big cats, it’s best to keep panthers in the wild. The Florida Panther, in particular, is an endangered species and needs the active support of conservation efforts for protection. Therefore, they should not be kept as exotic pets.
What Are the Differences Between Florida Bobcats and Florida Panthers?
While both cats are labeled as wild cats, they have several distinct differences. The first difference you’ll notice right away is size. Florida Panthers can grow quite large and have long tails, while Florida Bobcats are considered medium-sized wild cats and have short tails.
Florida Bobcats also tend to have more speckled coats. Florida Panthers can have some light spots on their coats, but they’re known to have a more solid tan coat.
When it comes to natural habitats, Florida Bobcats are habitat generalists, which means that they’re quite adaptable and can survive in all kinds of environments. For example, these cats are distributed all over Florida and can even be found roaming in urban areas.
Florida Panthers are less likely to be seen by people because they live in pinelands and swamp forests. You may run into a Florida Panther in northern Florida, but most live closer to the middle and southern parts of the peninsula.
Lastly, Florida Panthers are considered an endangered species, while Florida Bobcats are not. So, your chances of crossing paths with a Florida Bobcat are much higher than encountering a Florida Panther in the wild.
Which Breed Is Right for You?
When it comes to pet ownership, the Florida Bobcat is the only option. If you have a specific interest in Florida Panthers, it’s best to join a local wild cat conservation organization to support and protect them.
It’s important to know that Bobcats can be good exotic pets, but it really depends on the owner that cares for them. Exotic pets aren’t recommended for first-time owners, and Bobcats shouldn’t be treated with the same expectations as a dog or cat. These wild cats can’t become fully domesticated and require specialized care from an experienced pet owner that understands their behavior.
Florida Bobcats also need a lot more space than house cats, and getting furniture and carpet ruined is an expectation that comes with living with them. Because they have such particular care needs and don’t tend to bond with many people, finding a pet sitter can also be difficult if you must travel or spend prolonged periods away from home.
It’s important to carefully consider these factors before you decide to care for a Florida Bobcat. There are plenty of domestic cat breeds that are more well-suited for first-time pet owners. Large cat breeds, like Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest Cats, and Ragdolls make wonderful pets for families with young children. There are also plenty of domestic cats that have exotic appearances, like Abyssinians, Bengals, and Savannahs.