Lynx walking through the forest

NPS Photo

The One and Only

Lynx (Lynx canadensis) is the only member of the cat family native to Alaska. While lynx are generally thought to be solitary, new research in Alaska suggests that male and female lynx socialize outside the breeding season. Lynx are a mesopredator - mid-sized animals that eat other animals. Most adult lynx weigh between 18-30 pounds (8.2-13.6 kg).
Lynx walking in snow under the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
A collared adult male lynx walks off under the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, following his release. The collar transmits location data to a satellite every 4 hours, which is then downloaded onto biologists’ computers for analysis of his movements.

NPS Photo

Lynx range throughout the boreal forests of Alaska, Canada, and some of the northern continental United States. While often associated with forested lowland habitats, they also venture into alpine areas for hunting and denning.

Lynx are closely related to their Lower 48 cousin, the bobcat. Lynx, however, have longer ear tufts, longer legs and larger paws, a black-tipped tail, and a longer, mostly gray coat. Bobcats, which are more generalist predators than lynx, have shorter, more spotted fur, with a banded tail that is black tipped on top and white underneath.

Having luxuriously soft fur, lynx are trapped for their fur in Alaska. It is either kept by the trapper to make into warm garments for themselves, or into handicrafts to sell, while some are sold to the fur industry.

Mother lynx and two kittens peeking under a log
A female lynx with two of her kittens.

NPS Photo

What to eat?

A lynx’s favorite food is the snowshoe hare, and lynx populations are closely tied to snowshoe hare populations. More hares mean more lynx, but more lynx mean less hares. When the hare population peaks, lynx numbers reach peak levels a couple years later. Once hare populations crash from predation and over-grazing their food sources, lynx numbers also plummet. This is called a numerical response, when a predator’s population density is directly tied to a prey’s population density.

Female lynx typically have litters of 3-5 kittens, giving birth in early June.. When hares are abundant, they may have as many as 8 young; when hares are scarce, they may not produce litters at all, or the kittens do not survive.

Eight lynx kittens in the forest
Do you see all eight lynx kittens?

NPS Photo

Eight 3-4-week-old lynx kittens await their mother’s return beneath a fallen spruce tree. These kittens have been ear tagged by biologists for identification should they be recaptured later.
Lynx Project Principal Investigator Knut Kielland and graduate student Claire Montgomerie collect vital signs data from a tranquilized lynx.
Lynx Project Principal Investigator Knut Kielland and graduate student Claire Montgomerie collect vital signs data from a tranquilized lynx.

NPS Photo

Big Movers

On occasion, lynx move great distances, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles across the landscape into new territory, as shown on the collared lynx dispersal maps below.
Map image of lynx dispersals in Alaska and Canada
Map image of lynx dispersals in Alaska and Canada
The National Park Service teamed up with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a landscape scale study of lynx movements and dispersal behavior. One major objective of the study is to examine space use by dispersing lynx, what landscape features are used for traveling, and how dispersal may be influenced by human activity. Understanding the resource and habitat requirements for lynx will help land managers prioritize permitted land uses and the protective measures needed to ensure that critical habitat corridors between conservation units is maintained. The map above shows the locations and dispersal patterns of lynx collared by all the collaborators in the northern boreal lynx project. Most of the collared lynx have remained in the area where they are collared, but approximately 20-30% disperse, sometimes into entirely new habitats from whence they came.
Satellite map image of lynx dispersals in Alaska
Satellite map image of collared lynx dispersals in Alaska and into the Yukon Territory

Female lynx originally collared in the Koyukuk/Dietrich valley in the Brooks Range departed the area in April 2020 to travel hundreds of miles east into Yukon Territory, Canada, west to Norton Sound and the Chukchi Sea, and south to the Yukon River.

Last updated: February 12, 2021

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