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Can a bobcat be orange?

Bobcats are medium-sized wild cats found throughout most of North America. They are known for their spotted, bobbed tails and tufted ears. Bobcats typically have grayish-brown fur with black spots and stripes, but their coloring can vary quite a bit. So can a bobcat actually be orange in color?

Quick Answer

Yes, bobcats can sometimes display orange coloring, although it is uncommon. Most bobcats are shades of gray, brown, or buff, but regional variations in their genetics lead some subgroups to have more reddish-orange fur. These unusual color morphs are seen in small percentages of bobcat populations in certain areas.

Bobcat Coloring and Regional Variation

Bobcats exhibit a fair amount of diversity in their fur color and patterning throughout their range. The most common colors are light gray, yellowish- or reddish-brown, buff, and dark brown or black. Their spots, stripes, and undersides can be whitish, dark brown, or black as well. Lighter white, yellow, or bright reddish-orange fur is seen occasionally in some populations.

This range of coloration is linked to the genetic makeup of regional bobcat groups. In areas like Florida and southern Texas, darker brown or black bobcats predominate. In the Midwest and northern states, lighter grayish-brown tones are more common. And in certain northern areas like Minnesota, a small percentage of bobcats with bright reddish-orange fur have been observed.

Causes of Orange Coloration

So what causes some bobcats to display orange coloring? There are two main reasons:

  • Genetic mutations – Random mutations in genes affecting fur pigmentation can cause excess deposition of yellow to orange pigments in some bobcats.
  • Selective breeding – In regions where reddish-orange bobcats are seen more often, like parts of Minnesota, it suggests localized interbreeding has perpetuated this color morph over time.

In either scenario, the orange coloration stems from mutations long ago that originally created this fur phenotype in a small number of bobcats. This trait has been passed down through breeding of carriers since then, concentrating it in certain areas and wildlife populations.

Prevalence of Orange Bobcats

Overall, orange-colored bobcats are quite rare. Their exact prevalence throughout North America is unknown, but researchers estimate they constitute less than 5% of bobcat populations regionally. Here are some notes on orange bobcat frequency:

  • In Minnesota, orange bobcats may make up 3-5% of the local bobcat population.
  • Orange individuals are occasionally reported in other northern states like Maine, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, but seem less common than in Minnesota.
  • There are very few documented cases of orange bobcats in western, southeastern or south-central states.
  • The orange coloration has not been officially observed in Mexican bobcat populations.

So while possible, bright orange bobcats are certainly uncommon. Most bobcats across North America exhibit some mixture of gray, brown, black, and white fur. Only in isolated northern regions can usually reddish-orange individuals be found with some regularity.

Why Orange Coloration is Rare

There are likely two main reasons why orange coloration is so rare in bobcats:

  1. Camouflage needs – Bobcats rely on stealth and camouflage to ambush prey. Orange fur would stand out vividly against most backdrops, making hunting more difficult.
  2. Low gene frequency – The alleles (gene variants) causing excess orange pigment are simply very rare in bobcat populations. Most kittens inherit more common fur colors.

Essentially, vivid orange isn’t a beneficial trait for this ambush predator. The few bobcats born with orange fur are likely at a disadvantage for catching prey compared to their normally-colored relatives. This prevents the orange allele from becoming more widespread.

Interesting Facts About Orange Bobcats

  • Some scientists theorize that orange bobcats may have lower levels of the melanin pigment that makes fur appear darker brown or black.
  • Orange bobcats have been referred to as “cinnamons” or “red lynx” by observers.
  • Photos of orange bobcats often generate significant interest online from the public, as this coloration is so unusual.
  • While male bobcats are larger, there is no evidence that orange coloration is limited to or more common in either gender.
  • Orange bobcat kittens with darker parents have been documented, confirming this coat color has a genetic basis.
  • Besides fur color, orange bobcats do not exhibit differences in patterning, physical features, or behavior compared to normal-colored bobcats.
State Estimated % Orange Bobcats
Minnesota 3-5%
Maine Less than 1%
Wyoming Less than 1%
Oregon None documented


While most bobcats in North America have grayish, brown, or black fur, some orange-colored individuals do occur in isolated populations. These unusual bobcats likely inherit genetic mutations that cause excess deposition of reddish-orange pigment. Due to disadvantages for camouflage, orange has remained a very rare fur color among bobcats. Sightings are sometimes reported in northern regions like Minnesota and Maine, but orange bobcats are improbable across most of their range. So while possible, bobcats with truly bright orange coats are highly uncommon in the wild.

In summary, the question “Can a bobcat be orange?” can be answered with a definite yes – but these unusually-colored animals are quite seldom seen. Some isolated northern bobcat populations can exhibit a small percentage of orange-furred individuals due to localized inbreeding perpetuating this rare gene. However, the vast majority of bobcats across North America have fur conforming to the typical spotted, grayish-brown pattern that provides this predator with ideal camouflage for hunting success.