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Forest for the Trees

August 9, 2012 - Jordan Travis
While reading the Onaway Outlook's DNR Conservation Officer blotter, I noticed one incident where a caller reported what they believed to be a dead cougar on the side of I-75, south of Mackinac City.

"What??" I thought to myself. "A cougar in the Lower Peninsula! This is huge."

As it turned out, the caller actually saw a bobcat.

When I made a fuss about how anyone could mistake the two, I was chided (rightly) by my co-workers. Not everyone knows the difference, they said. Another pointed out my own ignorance between fish species, despite being a fairly avid angler myself.

On that note, I'd like to let everyone know it's easy to tell between a bobcat and a cougar. Yes, both are cats, and both have yellowish-brown fur. However, there's a glaring difference even the casual spotter can notice (if you're lucky enough to see either — from a safe distance). A bobcat has a six-inch tail, while a cougar has one about as long as its torso. Hence the name bobcat.

Cougars are also much longer, at five to six feet in length, while bobcats are two to three-and-a-half feet in length. Cougars weigh in at 75 to 180 pounds, while bobcats are much more petite at 10 to 40 pounds. In other words, your average bobcat is about one and a half times the size of a house cat, while a cougar could mistake Mittens for one of her litter.

We're lucky to live in a state where wildlife spotting opportunities abound. Just today, I saw an immature bald eagle flying along Lake Huron's shore, after scaring away some small four-legged critter while driving to the beach parking lot. But it pays to know the difference, even if you can only tell a half-dozen species or so apart from the other.

Check out Michigan's cats big and small for yourself on the Michigan DNR's website, the source for my stats:

(It's in the right column)


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