Diving Headfirst into the Snowy World of the Lynx

The lynx is one of the most skillful hunters in the wild. Season 1, Episode 2 of Planet Earth II, titled Mountains, has some incredible footage of the lynx on the hunt.

Prey can be really scarce in snowy, Wintery conditions, and lynx have adapted in some amazing ways. It has been observed that lynx are specialists of hare prey [3], and that they will follow their prey wherever they may go [2]. In fact, the lynx population is dependent on the hare species as the number of lynx increases roughly two years after a spike in the hare population [4].

The scene shows the lynx, commonly known as a bobcat, hopping from rock to rock to avoid crunching the snow and tipping off its prey, which is hidden beneath the surface. The lynx then pounces into a pocket of snow and comes up with a mouse. The mouse is food, but it is not a typical meal for the lynx, which prefers the snowshoe hare. Catching snowshoe hares is not easy however. The lynx must leap into the air and dive face first into the snow, hoping that it can dive deep enough to catch a hare.

As David Attenborough mentions, if the snow is too deep it becomes very difficult for the bobcat to reach its prey. The lynx may also have difficulty reaching its prey if the snow is crunchy [1].  If it gets warm enough, the surface of the snow will melt during the day, and then freeze again at night, which forms a thin layer of ice on the top of the snow. This layer can be hard to break through when the bobcat dives face first into the snow!

(Planet Earth II, Season1, Episode 2, starting at approximately 25:30)

by Bennett Shaw, Sean Zacharias & Kristin Newman

References

  1. Stenseth NC, Shabbar A, Chan K, Boutin S, Rueness EK, Ehrich D, Hurrell JW, Lingjærde OC & Jakobsen KS. 2004. Snow conditions may create an invisible barrier for lynx. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 101: 10632-10634.
  2. Bled F, Summers S, Martell D, Petroelje TR, Beyer DE & Belant JL. 2015. Effects of prey presence and scale on bobcat resource selection during winter. PLOS One. 10(11).
  3. Elbroch ML, Robertson L, Combs K & Fitzgerald J. 2017. Contrasting bobcat values. Biodiversity and Conservation. 26: 2987-2992.
  4. Stenseth NC, Falck W, Chan KS, Bjørnstad O, O’Donoghue M, Tong H, Boonstra R, Boutin S, Krebs CJ & Yoccoz NG. From patterns to processes: Phase and density dependencies in the Canadian lynx cycle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 95: 15430-15435.

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