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Airdate: May 26, 1998
Scientist: John Weaver


Why do Lynx have those unusual tufts of hair on top of their ears?

They're one of the most elusive creatures in the cat family, and although we've all seen pictures of them with their distinctive tufts of hair on top of their pointy ears, very few people ever get to see a lynx in the wild. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History. We're listening to the sounds of a lynx. Although they're still abundant in parts of Alaska and Canada, they're rarely found in the rest of the United States.

"In the lower 48 states it's estimated that they're probably less than five hundred animals."

Dr. John Weaver is a research associate with the Wildlife Conservation Society. He tells us that the fate of the lynx is linked to one particular species of animal.

"The lynx is highly specialized to prey on snowshoe hares. And it's known that in the far north of North America, that snowshoe hare populations cycle on about a 10 to 11-year basis. And the lynx populations follow along behind."

Right now in Canada, snowshoe hare populations are on the upswing and its hoped that lynx numbers will also increase. Because they're so dependent on snowshoe hares, the lynx have some special adaptions to help them capture their prey.

"They are one of three cats in the world that has a tuft of hair on top of the ear and on a lynx it can be up to three, three and a half inches long. And it's been a mystery to biologists about the purpose of these ear tufts. My hypothesis is that it makes it look more like the ear of a snowshoe hair. The advantage to the lynx, of course, is that as it sits in ambush somewhere out in the woods and a snowshoe hare comes hopping along looking for predators, it might look over and see this ear and not immediately recognize it as the ear of the predator."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.