Species Fact: The Eurasian Lynx


Name:

The common name for this lynx species is appropriate — Eurasian lynxes span the continent from its Atlantic shores (Scandinavia) to the Pacific (Russian Far East).

Tambako the Jaguar, CC BY-ND 2.0

The word “lynx” seems to be connected to various Indo-European words for “light” — perhaps because of the cat’s beautiful eyes (Hetherington et al.)

At one time, the Eurasian lynx’s scientific name — Lynx lynx — was applied to all northern lynx, which are paler and less spotted than southern lynx (which were given the general handle of Lynx pardina).

Thanks to genetic testing, as well as more research into lynxes, zoologists now know that there are two species in the north — Eurasian and Canada lynxes.

As well, some of the former members of L. pardina, including lynxes in the Caucasus and in southern Europe outside the Iberian Peninsula, which has its own lynx, are recognized today as Eurasian lynx, despite their brighter, more distinctly spotted coats.

The debate over subspecies in this widespread feline species, though, is still far from settled.

Lineage:

Lynx.

Outstanding Features:

  1. Biggest lynx species. Not coincidentally, this is the only lynx that regularly takes down hoofed animals like deer and reindeer. Like its close relatives, though, the Eurasian lynx also hunts smaller prey, including hares, rodents, and birds.
  2. One of the widest ranges in the cat family. Leopards, found from the Russian Far East to the tip of Africa, have the north-south axis covered. Eurasian lynxes, though, range a respectable 3,800 miles from east to west, in addition to dropping southward into Central Asia.
  3. Third largest predator in Europe. The Iberian lynx may be the biggest predator that is only found in Europe, but it is just half the size of the Eurasian lynx, which still maintains a presence here along with the wolf and brown bear.


    These scenes were filmed recently in Sweden. The bears, presumably, were hibernating or, in the warm weather, off somewhere else.


Data:

This information is from the Cat Specialist Group, except where noted.

Tambako the Jaguar, CC BY-ND 2.0

  • Weight: 38 to 55 pounds.
  • Height at the shoulder: 26 inches (Breitenmoser et al., 2000)
  • Body length: 35 to 47 inches.
  • Tail length: 8 to 9 inches.
  • Coat: Lynxes have dense and silky fur, with a very thick undercoat in winter. Its background color is highly variable, even in the same location — generally some shade of gray, reddish, or yellow. Eurasian lynxes have three general types of fur patterns: spotted, “striped” (4 to 6-inch dark bars on the back, running parallel to the spine), and mostly unspotted (very rare). Their underparts are usually white, and so is the trademark “beard,” though this often shows dark patterning with black-tipped hairs. The ear tufts, which can be 2 inches or more long, are always black, matching the tip of the bobbed tail. While not as good at snowshoeing as their North American cousins, Eurasian lynx do grow a layer of fur during winter that completely covers their paw pads. (Breitenmoser et al., 2000; Cat Specialist Group; Heptner and Sludskii)
  • Vocals: I haven’t found any mention that Eurasian lynxes have the same screeching trash-talk sessions as Canada lynx have been recorded having, but check out this video of a Eurasian lynx family chatting together (and watch to the end, when a cub suddenly makes what is probably its first kill):


  • Litter size: 1 to 4.

Where found in the wild:

BhagyaMani via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

When Europe was heavily forested, Eurasian lynxes probably lived everywhere there, other than islands like Ireland and Sicily and places where there were few dense woodlands, (like the Iberian Peninsula).

They may still even have been in the British Isles in early medieval times. (Hetherington et al)

As the human population of Europe increased and people reworked the landscape, lynx disappeared except for a few places — the Carpathian Mountains, southeastern Balkans, Fennoscandia, the Baltic States, and European Russia.

Lynx are making a comeback in Europe thanks to conservation laws and reintroduction, although there is still concern among gamekeepers and livestock owners about the overall effects of such programs.

Three-quarters of the Eurasian lynx’s present range is in Russia, from the Urals to Kamchatka on the Pacific coast. Here, its numbers have increased as war, revolution, and collectivization of agriculture during the 20th century all reduced hunting pressure on both lynxes and game animals. (Heptner and Sludskii)

Eurasian lynxes also roam parts of Central Asia and the Tibetan Plateau. Here is the first reported video of a lynx making a kill in Pakistan’s high country:

Habitat:

Fluffy isn’t the only cat that relaxes in weird ways. (Image: Jon Glittenberg, CC BY 2.0)

  • Range of environments: Eurasian lynxes are adaptable enough to range from sea level up to alpine meadows above tree line, though they typically use various types of forest at more moderate elevations.

    What these cats need, in addition to abundant prey, is a combination of what Heptner and Sludskii call “fortlike” places — rocks, talus slopes, tall trees or windfalls (for escape or as den sites) — and an annual snow cover of less than 20 inches.

    Their stronghold is in the woodlands of southern Siberia, although they’re also sometimes observed to the north out on the taiga as well as southward even into dry Kazakhstan.

  • Prey base: In Europe, this lynx species usually takes hoofed animals, in particular, small deer.

    Here is amazing (and graphic) video of a Eurasian lynx making a kill in Pakistan’s high country:



    In parts of Russia, the cat hunts arctic hares out on the flat taiga and small hoofed animals in more mountainous regions. During the snow-free months, lynxes also go for rodents and birds occasionally. Breitenmoser et al. (2000) note that there is no record of unprovoked attacks on people. However, Eurasian lynxes do have a taste for domestic livestock and this is an issue in terms of reintroduction programs in Europe.

  • Example of guild: Yes, lynxes are part of a northern European predator guild that also includes foxes and wolverines, as well as bears and wolves. In the Russian Far East, though, they must contend with tigers, badgers, and martens, as well as wolves and bears.

Red-list status:

Least concern, given the wide distribution and stability of Eurasian lynx populations in many places. However, some smaller groups, like the Balkan lynx, are still at high risk of extinction, while many reintroduced lynxes in western and central Europe are still struggling to get established.


Featured image: Eurasian lynx in Bavarian Forest National Park, by Thomas Gerhard, CC BY-ND 2.0


Sources:

Breitenmoser, U.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Okarma, H.; Kaphegyi, T.; and others. 2000. Action plan for the conservation of the Eurasian lynx in Europe (Lynx lynx) (No. 18-112). Council of Europe.

Breitenmoser, U.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Lanz, T.; von Arx, M.; and others. 2015. Lynx lynx (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T12519A121707666 https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/12519/121707666 Last accessed January 7, 2020.

Cat Specialist Group. 2020. http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=99 Last accessed January 7, 2020.

Ewer, R. F. 1973. The carnivores. The World Naturalist, ed. Carrington, R. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Heptner, V. G., and Sludskii, A. A. 1972. Mammals of the Soviet Union, volume II, part 2: Carnivora (hyaenas and cats). Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola Publishers. English translation by Rao, P.M., 1992. General editor: Kothekar, V. S. New Delhi: Amerind Publishing. https://archive.org/details/mammalsofsov221992gept

Hetherington, D. A.; Lord, T. C.; and Jacobi, R. M. 2006. New evidence for the occurrence of Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) in medieval Britain. Journal of Quaternary Science: Published for the Quaternary Research Association, 21(1): 3-8.

Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; Murphy, W. J.; and others. 2006. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. Science, 311:73-77.

Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; and others. 2017. A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. https://repository.si.edu/bitstream/handle/10088/32616/A_revised_Felidae_Taxonomy_CatNews.pdf

Rueness, E. K.; Naidenko, S.; Trosvik, P.; and Stenseth, N. C. 2014. Large-scale genetic structuring of a widely distributed carnivore-the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx). PloS One, 9(4). https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?type=printable&id=10.1371/journal.pone.0093675

Macdonald, D. W.; Loveridge, A. J.; and Nowell, K. 2010b. “Dramatis personae”: An introduction to the wild felids, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 3-58. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

O’Brien, S. J., and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American. 297 (1):68-75.

van Dijk, J.; Andersen, T.; May, R.; Andersen, R.; and others. 2008. Foraging strategies of wolverines within a predator guild. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 86(9): 966-975.

von Arx, M. 2018. Lynx lynx . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T12519A134346234 https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/12519/134346234 Last accessed January 7, 2020.



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