Yellowstone Up Close & Personal

Yellowstone Up Close & Personal

Yellowstone National Park Lynx Help Page

Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis)

The Canada Lynx is one of the rarest animals in Yellowstone and there have been very few sightings. If you happen to see one, if you can, take some pictures (and GPS location if possible) and report your sighting to any ranger or visitor center. On March 24, 2000, the contiguous United States population of the Canada lynx was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Your help would be greatly appreciated! Below is a flyer with identification information and other Yellowstone Lynx information.

Canada Lynx Information

Canada Lynx Information

Bullet Medium-sized cat (11 to 40 pounds)

Bullet Silver-gray to grayish-brown upper parts

Bullet White belly and throat

Bullet Facial ruff surrounds the face except beneath the snout

Bullet Ears have a long black tuft

Bullet Feet are large, round and heavily furred

The following information is provided by Yellowstone National Park:

Lynx (Felis lynx canadensis) were reported in the park in the early years of this century. Bailey (1927) reported that "there are said to be a very few Canada lynxes, but we saw no tracks or signs of them," during a July 1926 outing in Yellowstone backcountry by more than 200 Audubon Society members. Skinner (1927) estimated a lynx population of 10 with stationary status. By the mid-1940s, lynx were reported as extremely scarce. Annual reports of wildlife in the park list lynx as a "rare native" in the late 1960s, but in the early 1970s this animal was not listed as present.

Consolo Murphy and Meagher (in press) reported a total of 57 records of lynx on file in Yellowstone for the period 1883-1995, all but one of which were within park boundaries. Sightings were reported 34 times and tracks reported 17 times, both throughout the park, although more reports occurred in the southern half of Yellowstone. Lynx were reported more often in winter, although all months are represented in these records. Since 1995 there have been two reports of lynx, both in 1997, in the northern half of the park. The Smithsonian Museum has a skull of a female lynx reportedly collected from an unspecified location in Yellowstone in 1904. Museums at the Universities of Idaho and Wyoming have no specimens of lynx collected in Yellowstone. The park has no records of lynx having been killed or found dead here. Neither has research been conducted to determine whether transient or resident populations exist. Sightings by visitors or employees are the only evidence we have of the possible presence of these animals that so closely resemble bobcats (Felis rufus) that sightings are difficult to verify. Consolo Murphy and Meagher concluded that evidence is too scant to reliably state that a resident population of lynx exists in the park today, if it did historically.

As part of a proposed settlement over a lawsuit filed by the Defenders of Wildlife and 14 other organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently proposed to take action to list the Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act. A series of legal actions regarding the lynx have been pending since 1991. The USFWS determined that lynx were historically resident in 16 of the contiguous United States, and that they currently occur at low levels in Montana, Washington, and Maine. They are rare in Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, Colorado, Vermont, and New Hampshire; the USFWS believes they have been extirpated from New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Publication of a proposed rule in the Federal Register is planned for the summer of 1998, followed by a public comment period to actively solicit new information about the status of lynx, related threats, and ongoing conservation activities.

Adult lynx are about the size of a large domestic cat. Males can weigh upwards of 30 pounds, while females are smaller. Lynx have large legs and broad, well-furred paws, blunt tails, and prominent tufted ears. Lynx are generally grayish-brown with white, buff, or brown on the facial ruff and throat. Limited studies suggest that lynx breed in April or May, and give birth to three to five kittens in late May or June. Lynx are usually found in boreal forests and they tolerate deep snow quite well. They are commonly associated with snowshoe hares, but may also prey on squirrels, grouse and mice. The conifer forests, semi-open and rocky areas of the park seem to offer summer conditions suitable for both bobcats and lynx--adequate shelter, a variety of rodents, rabbits, hares, birds, and other small animals for food. Lynx survive similarly severe winter weather conditions in Canada. Research there has shown that bobcats, another native wildcat, and lynx are seldom found in the same area as bobcats are more aggressive and may dominate. Whether this behavioral factor may affect living conditions for lynx in Yellowstone is presently unknown.

The similarity between lynx and bobcats makes it difficult to determine their status in Yellowstone. A large adult bobcat may be larger than a small adult lynx, so size is not a good characteristic for positive identification. Both bobcats and lynx have ear "tufts" of black hair. Although lynx are more solidly gray and bobcats are often buffy and have many black spots, larger bobcats usually have fewer spots and some turn almost solidly gray in winter, so general coloration is also a difficult characteristic for distant identification. If you see one of these small wildcats and have time, good light, and binoculars, look at the inside of the cat’s forelegs. There are no black bars there on a lynx, although there may be some dark spots. Also, the tip of the tail of a lynx is solidly black. (The upper side of a bobcat's tail has several dark bands that become more distinct toward the tip but the underside of the tip itself is white.)

If you find only tracks, measure and photograph them carefully, then consult a track field guide for identification. Bobcat tracks seldom exceed 2 1/4 inches; lynx tracks usually are longer than 3 1/2 inches. And consider yourself lucky to see any of the three felids that may exist in Yellowstone (bobcat, mountain lion, lynx). These rare and elusive cats are most active at night, so even those who study them seldom have an opportunity to see one! If you think you see a lynx or lynx tracks, please report them promptly to a ranger or visitor center. For animals so rarely recorded, every observation is useful and important.

In recent years, the park has experimented with non-harmful methods to determine the presence of some rarely seen animals, by sampling for snow tracks and guard hairs. Wildlife biologist Kerry Murphy and his assistants have found lynx snow tracks, scats, and guard hairs between 2001 - 2004 with these methods in the park.

Here is some more information from Lynx research in Yellowstone:

Lynx Map NPS Image

“Little is known about Canada lynx in Yellowstone National Park, except that the species was present at the park’s inception in 1872 and may have persisted to this day. The lack of basic information in the park and this species’ listing as threatened in the contiguous U.S. by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2000 prompted a survey of lynx presence and distribution from 2001 to 2004. Researchers traversed transects looking for tracks during winter and used hair snares in summer to detect lynx. Using DNA extracted from hair or fecal samples, researchers confirmed the presence of a female (unknown age), an adult female with a male kitten, and an adult male, each in a different year in the eastern portion of the park. Eight other unconfirmed lynx snow trails were also identified, including three from the central portion. Cumulatively, the detections represented at least three individual lynx, including two kittens born in different years. A male identified in Yellowstone in 2004 was detected 76 km south in Bridger-Teton National Forest in 2005, demonstrating that significant movement of lynx occurs within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Reproduction documented in this and other studies, in addition to immigrants from peripheral populations, may contribute to lynx presence in the ecosystem.”


“Lynx habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is often naturally patchy due to natural fire frequency and generally limited to conifer forests above 7,700 feet where the distribution of its primary prey, snowshoe hare, is often insufficient to support lynx residency and reproduction. The lower quality habitat means home ranges in this ecosystem are larger than those farther north, with lynx traveling long distances between foraging sites.”

“In 2000, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lynx as “threatened” in the lower 48 states. Portions of the park and surrounding area is considered much of the critical habitat for the species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

DNA-based detections of lynx documented in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, 1996 to 2008. Numerous locations of radio-collared lynx from Colorado are unavailable. Data provided by Endeavor Wildlife Research, Wild Things Unlimited, US Forest Service, and the National Park Service.   NPS

Quick Facts

Number in Yellowstone


   112 known observations

Where to See


   Very rarely seen.


   Typical habitat: cold conifer forests.

Size and Behavior


   Adult: 16–35 pounds, 26–33 inches long.


   Gray brown fur with white, buff, brown on throat and ruff; tufted ears; short tail; hind legs longer than front.


   Distinguish from bobcat: black rings on tail are complete; tail tip solid black; longer ear tufts; larger track.


   Wide paws with fur in and around pads; allows lynx to run across snow.


   Track: 4–5 inches.


   Solitary, diurnal and nocturnal.


   Eats primarily snowshoe hares, especially in winter; also rodents, rabbits, birds, red squirrels, and other small mammals, particularly in summer.


Bailey, V. 1927. Animal Life in Yellowstone Park. Sierra Club Bull. Vol XII, No. 4:333-344.

Consolo Murphy, S. and M. Meagher. In press. The status of wolverine, lynx, and fisher in Yellowstone National park. Predators and ecosystems: proceedings of the third biennial conference on the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Northern Rockies Cons. Coop., Jackson, Wyo.

Skinner, M.P. 1927. The Predatory and Fur-bearing Animals of the Yellowstone National Park. Roosevelt Wild Life Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 27. Syracuse Univ., Syracuse, N.Y. 284 pp.


Murphy, K., T. Potter, J. Halfpenny, K. Gunther, T. Jones, and R. Lundberg. 2005. The elusive Canada lynx: Surveying for Yellowstone’s most secretive threatened carnivore. Yellowstone Science 13(2): 7–15.

Murphy, K.M., T.M. Potter, J.C. Halfpenny, K.A. Gunther, M.T. Jones, P.A. Lundberg, and N.D. Berg. 2006. Distribution of Canada Lynx in Yellowstone National Park. Northwest Science 80(3):199–206.

Murphy, S.C. and M.M. Meagher. 2000. The status of wolverines, lynx, and fishers in Yellowstone National Park. In A. P. Curlee, A. Gillesberg and D. Casey, ed., Greater Yellowstone predators: Ecology and conservation in a changing landscape, 57–62. Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative and Yellowstone National Park.

Ruggiero, L.F. et al. ed. 2000. Ecology and Conservation of Canada Lynx in the US. Boulder: University of Colorado.

Squires, J.R. 2005. Conservation challenges of managing lynx. Yellowstone Science 13(2): 10–11.

Squires, J.R. and R. Oakleaf. 2005. Movements of a male Canada lynx crossing the Greater Yellowstone Area, including highways. Northwest Science 79(2–3):196–201.

♦    Lynx Gallery    ♦

Rare Animal Report Form (this is an Adobe pdf form)

2008 / 2009 Lynx Study (this is an Adobe pdf form)

Please Report any Possible Sightings to any Ranger or Visitor Center!

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