Exploring my little piece of the planet

Canada Lynx

Lynx canadensis

An attempt to cross the highway with its prey was thwarted as we pulled over to take in the rare sight.

“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.

A pronounced facial ruff, very long ear tufts and stubby tail tipped with black identify this as a lynx

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.

“The lynx looks as if it is all legs and feet, the feline equivalent of those jacked-up muscle trucks whose huge tires make the vehicle body look puny. Big tires on a four-wheel-drive truck spread the vehicle’s weight over a large area, enabling it to travel over swampy terrain and muskeg where normal vehicles would bog down.” (from Predators: Wild Dogs & Cats by Kevin van Tighem)

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.

I think this is a lynx track, found in highly populated hare territory
Lynx scat – again, unconfirmed, but about the right size and full of white fur




14 responses

  1. Pingback: Snowshoe Hare « The Nature of the Hills

  2. What an amazing thing to capture on film.

    And that video is amazing.

    Can they really bound 6 metres ? That’s like 20 feet !!!


    Wonderful, informative post.


    March 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    • 6 metres and more! Or so my sources say. Thanks for popping in, Sybil.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm

  3. Pingback: Nature Gets Inside « On and Over the Hills

  4. pixilated2

    I was amazed at how big the lynx’ feet were! Amazing. But then when I watched the one in the film bounding through the snow it all made sense! The large size works like snowshoes.

    Thanks for sharing your amazing photo log and for doing the research to enlighten us.


    March 30, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    • Nature does work some amazing adaptations. A lynx moves with such fluidity. It is truly a sight to behond. The research is a compulsive thing. I’m indulging myself when I take the time. I’m happy to share. Thanks for coming by, Lynda.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

  5. This time it’s my turn to have read the post and had to come back another day to comment. What an extraordinary moment. We have long yearned to see the European lynx, and as I walk the woods I try to imagine how it would move and what shape it would take as it hunted. But being both rare and extremely secretive it is a yearning confined mostly to the realm of dreams. Seeing your images, however, has brought me about as close to a lynx as I might ever be and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I feel a tingling just looking at your photos, absorbing something of the mysterious encounter, which I’m absolutely delighted you had. Thanks so much for revealing the life of the lynx in your words and images, Cindy.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    • It was a very thrilling encounter, Julian. In part because of its rarity, but also because this animal just screams ‘perfect’. Everything about it is so cool; composed. It didn’t bolt as we stared. In fact it turned around, dropped its burden and stared back at us for some moments before it calmly picked the hare back up. Having apparently decided not to take us on to defend its kill, it headed back into the bush, not running, but ever so gracefully, as if in slow motion, it walked back into the bush. I was driving, so it took a while to fumble for my camera. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of it.

      I read that the European lynx is twice as big. It must really be a sight. I understand that 10,000 years ago, when the Bering Land bridge disappeared between Alaska and Sibera, the European, Spanish and Canada lynx began to evolve separately and there is still debate in the scientific community as to whether or not they have diverged enough to be considered separate species. But then, I doubt I’m telling you something you didn’t already know and if any of my information is off, I hope you’ll let me know.

      Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment. I hope one day you’ll see your lynx. One sighting is enough to last a lifetime. It’s not something you can forget.

      March 31, 2011 at 6:10 am

  6. I believe others have said this, but I was surprised to find out how light the lynx is and how large it’s feet and legs. All very interesting. Thank you Cindy.

    April 8, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    • You’re welcome, Lynn. It is difficult to reconcile the size of the lynx’ tracks with its body size, especially in the soft snow. It is quite an intriguing animal.

      April 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm

  7. aubrey

    Like all things feline, the lynx seems to be made to hunt and to be beautiful.

    What a special, rare sight!

    April 10, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    • It really was a special gift. If I never see one again, I’ll still be happy. Thanks for coming by, Aubrey.

      April 10, 2011 at 9:09 pm

  8. What wonderful photos of your Canadian Lynx; they’re a beautiful species. Here at the edge of suburbia we are sometimes lucky to sight the African Lynx, Caracal caracal, or Rooikat. We have a dassie colony at the bottom of our garden and on occasion have seen the rooikat hunting. Last sighting there were three kittens in tow. It is a rare privilege to have such wild animals living in close proximity to man.

    September 16, 2012 at 6:11 am

    • Such exotic species you mention! I will enjoy seeing them on your blog, if, as is likely, never in person. I agree wholeheartedly that we are honoured with our sightings. Even if I never, or seldom get to see the critters themselves – there is still deep forest cover in which to hide – I am thrilled to see any sign that they exist nearby. Thank you so much for your visit.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:20 am

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