Bobcats and Their Sense Of Smell (How Great Is It?)

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Bobcats (Lynx rufus) is one of North America’s most resilient (and coolest!) predators. Having lived through landscapes of varying sights, sounds, and odors, these solitary and elusive felines have evolved through the years to better survive in unpredictable environments and their excellent sense of smell is definitely proof of this!

A bobcat’s nose is capable of a lot of pretty awesome stuff like distinguishing between different smells or picking up scents that are miles away. Their sense of smell is also quite special since they’re among the few species that possess a “second nose”. 

Have I piqued your interest? Come join us here in Floofmania as we sniff around some cool facts about these wonderful wildcats! 

Bobcat sitting on the forest floor nexst to a tree trunk, behind leaves.

How Good Is The Bobcat’s Sense Of Smell?

While bobcats’ sense of smell is nowhere near as keen as that of the long-muzzled canines, it’s definitely nothing to be sniffed at (ba-dum tss!). 

A bobcat’s nose is well-adapted at detecting scent markers such as poops and pee of other bobcats and potential predators, making their noses crucial tools for survival. With over 200 million odor sensors in their snouts, bobcats are able to use their sense of smell to discern different scents and gather vital information about their surroundings efficiently. 

Fact: Bobcats are crepuscular creatures and their heightened sense of smell helps them navigate the low-light periods of sunrise and sunset more efficiently. 

More than this, you might be a little gobsmacked to discover that bobcats actually have something of a second nose! Aside from their primary scent receptors, bobcats have what is called a vomeronasal organ which is located at the roof of their mouths and is absolutely crucial for mating and pheromone detection. 

Can Bobcats Smell Their Prey From Far Away?

Yes, they can. Bobcats’ developed sense of smell allows them to pick up the scent of prey over 3 miles away! Click on the video below to see their impressive nose in action: 

However, it is important to note that while the sense of smell of bobcats is pretty great, they tend to rely more on their keen eyesight and hearing in tracking and hunting for prey than they do their sense of smell, which gains more usage in social interactions.

Fact: Wildlife photographers sometimes use smelly fish or meat as a lure to attract bobcats and take photos of them!

Do Bobcats Leave Scent Marks For Other Bobcats?

Oh, for sure! Bobcats are quite notorious for their scent marks, often scattering their poops and spraying their pee in multiple places around their home ranges. They tend to leave these stinky droppings in something called “marking sites”, which are areas that other bobcats can easily find and smell such as along travel routes or near dens. Here are some common examples:

  • Rocky outcroppings
  • Hollowed trees
  • Outside of caves
  • Snowbanks
  • Bluffs

Whenever bobcats go out on patrol, it is pretty common to see them making periodic stops along the edges of their home range to scent-mark boulders or thickets, ensuring outsider bobcats don’t make the mistake of overstepping. Watch the video below to see just exactly that!

What Are The Bobcat’s Scent Marks For? 

Scent marking primarily serves a social function for bobcats and is actually a lot more sophisticated than you’d probably think. Through pooping and peeing or sniffing the droppings of other bobcats, they are able to send and receive a variety of signals and messages! 

With bobcats being quite the territorial felines, you can probably guess that the most common message they’d send via scent marks is to tell foreign bobcats and other animals to stay away. Mutual avoidance is an agreed-upon practice among these felines and stepping foot (or paw) into a scent-marked border of another bobcat is pretty much asking for trouble.

Bobcat adult and juvenile sitting on a bed of wood chips in front of a grassy lawn.

The rare times that bobcats meet usually occur during the breeding season, a time when scent-marking becomes extra handy. 

Female bobcats will normally be seen peeing, pooping, and rubbing against objects in their home range to advertise their fertile scent to male bobcats. The males will respond to this with scent marks of their own, announcing their presence in a female’s home range whilst also warding off other potential suitors. 

Fact: A male bobcat’s home range usually overlaps with multiple female home ranges as they like to mate with as many females as possible!

A male bobcat’s second nose also comes into play during this process, drawing the scent of the female’s droppings into their special organ and allowing them to detect the presence of pheromones.

While doing this, the male will exhibit a slightly funny-looking, lip-curling grimace known as flehmen. Check out the video below if you wanna see it:

If you think about it, this long-distance form of romancing among bobcats characterized by subtle and clever messaging makes scent-marking seem a little bit like dating apps, but smellier!

Are Bobcats Afraid Of Certain Smells?

Although bobcats are definitely no pussycats, they are pretty afraid of the smell of wolf pee! A fearful bobcat will usually have its ears pulled back and will try to appear smaller. Some bobcats may show signs of agitation such as dilated pupils, an arched back, hissing, and piloerection (puffing of fur).  

With wolves being one of the biggest predators of bobcats, their pee is able to trigger the genetic fear imprint ingrained in the felines’ DNA and put them immediately on edge. Some bobcats are so sensitive to the smell that even the lingering scent of canine can make them fearful.

Besides this, a bobcat will also feel threatened by the scents of lynx, cougars, bears, or any animal that can pose a threat to their safety!

Can You Scare Away A Bobcat Using Smells? 

Of course! If you have a bobcat roaming around in your area that is causing some minor mayhem or disturbance you can definitely make use of specific smells to shoo them away. 

Bobcat balancing on a line and pole on a structure up in the air.

Pee from different animals such as bears, mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, and other bobcats is great in repelling bobcats as it sends a clear message of danger which triggers their instincts to flee. These cats are well-versed in territoriality and are wise enough to retreat if the scent of other predators lingers in the area. 

Generally, the pee of “larger” predators has a higher chance of driving them away as some bobcats may stake their claim over a territory if they think they can win in a brawl against the other animal. Fortunately, multiple predator pees can be readily purchased as easy-to-use bottles so you can quickly set up a pee-rimeter (I’m here all week, folks!) around your home with ease. 

You can also try different products like dish soaps and essential oils containing citrus fruits like lemon, lime, and oranges or use herbs like thyme and rosemary as bobcats heavily dislike the scents of them.

Ready-made natural repellents containing these ingredients are available for purchase, but if you have some free time why not take a shot at making your own?

How Is The Bobcat’s Sense Of Smell Compared To Other Animals? 

Here is a table on how well each animal can smell in comparison to bobcats: 

Animals Sense of smell in comparison to Bobcats
Canines (dogs, wolves, coyotes, etc.) 5% of a canine’s brain volume is committed to its sense of smell while felid species like bobcats only utilize 3% for it. Canines can smell as far as 12.5 miles while a bobcat’s nose can only reach up to 3-4 miles.  
Mountain LionsMountain lions rely less on their sense of smell to communicate than bobcats do. As they both belong in the Felidae family, the difference in their sense of smell is marginal with bobcats being slightly better due to more frequent usage. 
HumansFelidae species like bobcats have over 200 million odor sensors while humans only have 6 million. Generally, the sense of smell of bobcats is 10-20 times better than that of humans.  
House catLike mountain lions, house cats and bobcats have anatomically similar noses, but bobcats have a superior sense of smell due to exposure to more varied scents and a much more complex usage. 

Author: Fortune Ultado

Fortune is a student of veterinary medicine fueled by caffeine, cat memes, and the comforting thought that there’s a cuddly little sea otter out there keeping our kelp forests alive. When he doesn’t have his nose buried in a microbiology textbook, he advocates for animal welfare and wildlife conservation. 

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