Some weeks back, we were marvelling at the size spectrum of four different kinds of Russian Far East felines photographed by trail cameras on the same pathway.

Now, we've got another virtual side-by-side to share: this time a North American one, courtesy of a camera trap that wildlife enthusiast Viv K. maintains in the Rocky Mountain foothills west of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

A female puma – a successful mother Viv knows well from trail-cam snapshots over the years, distinctive for her lack of a black tail tip – wandered past the camera back in early September:

Then, on December 4th, a Canada lynx trod the very same ground, providing an interesting visual comparison of these two cousins:

At first glance, the lynx and puma here look comparably sized, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, we're looking at the mountain lion in svelte, late-summer pelage; the lynx, in turn, is swaddled in its plush winter coat, so some of its apparent heft is actually floof. And Canada lynx appear larger than they really are because of their disproportionately long legs – especially those almost jackrabbit-worthy hind limbs – and big feet: the equipment of a fine-tuned northern hunter.

That said, Viv's camera likely captured a magnificent, silver-grey cat on the bigger end of the lynx spectrum. (A typical Canada lynx stands some 46 to 56 centimetres [18 to 22 in.] at the shoulder, compared to a puma's 63 to 76 cm [25 to 30 in.]; a big tom lynx usually tops out in the vicinity of 18 kilograms [40 lbs.], while a female mountain lion can weigh more than 45 kilograms [100 lbs.].)

Its light, lanky frame and almost comically broad paws give the lynx – like its quintessential quarry, the snowshoe hare – notably low "foot loading": an estimation of how much pressure a critter applies to the snowpack and therefore how deeply it sinks. Thus the lynx can hunt amid deep, soft drifts that would bog down pumas, bobcats and coyotes, saddled as they are with higher foot loading. (Some evidence suggests the hard-packed snow of snowmobile trails may allow competing carnivores access to the lynx's deep-snow digs.)

Pumas are both potential competitors and predators of the lynx. Given the smaller cat's ability to exploit winter-scapes too arduous for pumas to effectively hunt in, competition between the two would presumably be higher in summer, and in areas with either shallow or scanty winter snows or a more crusted-over snowpack.

The puma a split-second after the first image... (Image: Viv K.)
...and the lynx. (Image: Viv K.)

Canada lynx range farther north than any other American felid, the heart of their domain being the mighty boreal forest of Alaska and (surprise!) Canada. Most of their overlap with other cats falls in the southern reaches of their distribution: with bobcats in the lower fringe of the boreal realm and in the northern mixed-hardwood forests of the US Upper Midwest and Northeast, and with both bobcats and pumas in the high woods of the western mountains.

With a decent look at the cat in question, there's really no confusing a Canada lynx and a puma. It's a different story with a bobcat, however (which, after all, is a type of lynx):

A bobcat in Virginia. Image: National Park Service

The lynx appears all-around bigger than its more southerly (and usually more heavily spotted) relative, but, here again, that's often due to its taller, ganglier build, outsized paws, more pronounced ruff and longer ear tufts. The two wildcats are actually similar in mass: in fact, the burliest male bobcats, at 23 kilograms (50 lbs.) or more, may actually outweigh their lynx counterparts. And where they do cross paths, the feistier bobcat tends to hold the competitive edge.

For more pumas and lynx – and grizzlies, black bears, moose, foxes, white-tailed and mule deer, and other denizens of the Alberta hinterland – check out Viv K.'s Twitter feed!



Top header image: Pixabay