“The lynx is named after the luminescence of its eyes which have expanding irises and reflectors that enable them to hunt effectively at night when they are most active.” So says the authors of this site, which also claims, “The lynx is used to symbolize the sense of sight or vision and were credited with the particular ability to be able to see through material things as though these objects were translucent”
An Internet search on the word ‘lynx’ returns nearly 42 million hits. The animal appears to be (justly) idolized. It is everywhere a popular choice for commercial and website names. Lynx appears in Greek myths and even early astronomers admired this predator.
The name Lynx never stood for the animal itself. Hevelius, who invented the constellation, said anyone who wanted to study the stars here should have eyes like a lynx. (Source)
In all the many myths and lore around the lynx, its exceptional vision appears to be its most revered characteristic. One who has the good fortune to have the solitary lynx ‘walk beside’ as their spiritual totem will “…have an uncanny ability to recognize the fears, secrets, agenda and feelings of guilt or remorse that are all but invisible to most other souls.” (Source) As a silent watcher and listener, Lynx will this keep knowledge close and not share it, unless specifically asked.
It is by watching with its keen night vision and by listening with its oversized ears, that the lynx finds and stalks its primary prey, the Snowshoe Hare. Silently padding on its huge, thickly furred feet or waiting in hiding, the lynx will suddenly spring: its long, powerful hind legs carrying its metre-long, 30-pound body a distance of over 6 metres with one bound.
Lynx may be hunted by wolves, cougars and coyotes, which also compete with it for food. The lynx, though, has a distinct advantage over its predator enemies in its huge, furred and splayed feet, which ‘float’ over deep snow, taking it into hare habitat much more quickly and efficiently.
Click here for an amazing image of a Canada Lynx in the Yukon by Keith Williams.
Lynx will hunt squirrels and other rodents, birds, especially grouse and even occasionally a young or injured ungulate, but snowshoe hares make up 75% of its diet. Indeed, there is a direct correlation between the 10-year cycle of abundance and decline in hare populations, and numbers and range of lynx.
Where the hare goes, so will the lynx. Anything that affects the loss of hare habitat (Please see my article on the Snowshoe Hare) will directly influence lynx success as well. Depending almost solely on the population densities of hare, the territorial lynx requires an individual range of 15 – 47 square kilometres (source). It is thought that female lynx may require old-growth forest to shelter and hide her young.
Trapping can also be a threat. In the early days of Canada’s fur trade, the lynx or le pichu (from the Cree peshewa), was nearly wiped out. Numbers hit serious lows again in the mid 1900’s when pelt prices reached $1000. Even though restrictions and quotas have since been implemented to ensure the species’ survival, lynx have been extirpated from the southern-most reaches of their range in the United States. In the region where I live in Alberta, where lynx are caught by leg-hold or kill traps, 6-9 animals (worth about $116 each) can be ‘harvested’ by each registered trapper. Alberta’s Sustainable Resource Development department bases the quotas on estimates taken every five years.
It is March and the lynx will be mating. Judging by the number of tracks I have been seeing, it seems to be a good year and possibly a peak year for hares, so a predictably good year for kitten survival once the average of four are born after a two month gestation. About a decade ago I had the pleasure of watching three lynx kittens playing under a shrub by the side of the road. I will likely have only this memory to help me imagine the progeny of this season’s illusive lynx, just as my likelihood of taking better pictures of this magical creature are slim.
- Predators: Wild Dogs and Cats by Kevin Van Tighem. Altitude Publishing 1999
- A Field Guide to Animal Tracks by Olaus J. Murie. Houghton Mifflin Company 1975
- Mammals of Alberta by Don Pattie & Chris Fisher. Lone Pine Publishing 1999
- University of Alberta Lynx Research
- Hinterland Who’s Who
- SRD Trapping Regulations
- SRD General Status of Alberta Wild Species Reports
- Natureserve Explorer
- IUCN Species Survival Commission (oldish data)
- Video – Lynx vs Snowshoe Hare from Marty Stouffer’s “Wild America”
- Life Paths: Spirit of Lynx
- Constellations of Words
- The Constellations by Richard Dibon-Smith