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2 Types of Wild Cats in Illinois (With Pictures)

There are two types of wild cats in Illinois, but only one is native to the state. The bobcat is the only wild cat that can call Illinois home. You may occasionally see a cougar in the state, but this is a rare sighting. Cougars typically only pass through Illinois. Read on to learn more about these two wild cats that can be seen in the Prairie State.

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The 2 Types of Wild Cats in Illinois

1. Bobcat

lynx bobcat wildcat
Image Credit: skeeze, Pixabay
Species: Lynx rufus
Weight: 11–30 pounds
Lifespan: 10–12 years
Color: Tan or reddish brown with black spots

The bobcat is the only native wild cat in Illinois. There are approximately 5,000 bobcats throughout the state. You may never see one because they are good hiders and don’t want to be around people. These are solitary cats that would much rather hide or flee than be seen by humans.

Bobcats typically live in the southern part of Illinois, but they can be seen anywhere in the state. They play a crucial role in the ecosystem because they control rodents and other pests. However, bobcats are also known to prey on livestock and pets, which led to their near extinction in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The cats were hunted by those wishing to protect their animals. The cats were considered threats and were eliminated. In the 1970s, these cats became protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.


Bobcats are nearly twice the size of an average house cat. They can weigh 11–30 pounds, sometimes reaching up to 40 pounds. They have tan or reddish-brown coats with black spots, tufted ears, white bellies, and of course, bobbed tails. This latter feature gives the cats their name. The tail is only around 5 inches long and has dark bands around it with a white tip.

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2. Cougar

Image Credit: Evgeniyqw, Shutterstock
Species: Puma concolor
Weight: 75–160 pounds
Lifespan: 10–20 years
Color: Tan, grey, or reddish brown

A cougar is also called a panther, mountain lion, or puma. They are the second largest cat in the United States. If you see a cougar, they’re likely to just be traveling to their next stop. They are solitary animals and only interact with one another to mate. In Illinois, bobcats are sometimes misidentified as cougars, but the differences in their appearance are quite noticeable.

Cougars are a rare sight and should be left alone if you should happen to see one. They prey on deer and small animals, hiding and waiting for the right moment to pounce. They are so powerful that they can take down large animals with one leap.


Cougars have tan, grey, or reddish-brown coats. They have slender bodies with round heads. Their ears are pointed. Their very long tails have black tips. They have light muzzles and undersides. The differences between cougars and bobcats are their size, coats, and tails. Cougars are huge compared to bobcats, and their coats have no spots. A cougar’s tail can also reach up to 3 feet in length.

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Bobcats and cougars are the only wild cats that you’ll see in Illinois, but only the bobcat is native to the state. Cougars can appear in Illinois, but it’s usually because they are traveling through the state to get somewhere else.

These cats vary wildly in appearance. The bobcat is small and spotted with a bobbed tail. The cougar is huge with no spots and a long tail. If you see either one of these cats, remember that they don’t want to engage with you. Unless you are in immediate danger, it’s best to leave them be and let them continue on their way.

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Featured Image: camselo, Pixabay