Iowa USED to be home to three wildcats, but only one still has an established presence in the state.

Bobcats are one of three wildcats that are native to Iowa. But according to the Iowa DNR, Bobcats are the only ones that still have established populations in the state.

Bobcats are often mistaken for mountain lions – here’s how to tell them apart: the mountain lion has a long tail (up to 3 feet), while the bobcat has a short “bobbed” tail that’s shorter than 10 inches. Bobcats are only 3 feet in length, while adult male mountain lions are 7 to 9 feet. Mountain lions weigh up 160 pounds, while bobcats weigh 20 to 30 pounds. A female bobcat's territory ranges about 6 square miles while a male may range up to 60 miles.

Meg Jerrard
@mappingmegantravel via Unsplash

The DNR listed the bobcat as an endangered species in 1977. Populations rebounded over time, and its status moved to a threatened species in 2001 and then a protected species in 2003. In 2007, numbers had improved to a point where the state could sustain a limited bobcat hunting season.

Bobcat Range Map:

The Mountain Lion, or Cougar, have small populations in South Dakota and Nebraska and some young males may get chased from their territories by older, dominant males, and sometimes wander into Iowa in search of a new home. But there are no breeding populations in Iowa. Mountain lion’s favorite food items are small mammals and deer. They rarely take livestock. According to, the state with the biggest number of Mountain Lions is Oregon, with over 6,000.


If you come across one – don’t try to run from it. They can sprint up to 50 MPH and can jump 15 feet high. Hold your ground or back away slowly.

Iowa DNR

The third and final wildcat native to Iowa is one that you will probably never see  --- the lynx. They used to live in northern Iowa, but the lynx disappeared from the state by the 1880s and now, the closest populations are in Minnesota and Canada.

Zdeněk Macháček via Unsplash

While a lynx may occasionally wander through the state, the Iowa DNR says that there are no documented established breeding populations here. Even if one wandered into the state, they avoid humans and hunt at night, so they are rarely seen. Lynx have tremendous sight and hearing and can spot a mouse 250 feet away. The largest worldwide population can be found in southern Siberia with a global population believed to be less than 50,000. They can live up to 17 years in the wild.

Lynx Range Map:

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