The black and white marks on the back of a bobcat’s ears are actually false eyes. False eyes are very common in nature and appear on all kinds of animals, from birds to butterflies. Among cats, bobcats share their eye-spot ears with lynxes, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, pumas, and servals— among many others!
For bobcats, eye spots serve a few purposes. One is to frighten and intimidate other bobcats. When a bobcat is angry, it tends to flatten its ears against its face, which automatically turns the eyespots forward so they become more visible. This creates an illusion that makes the bobcat look very large, alert, and aggressive.
A bobcat’s eye-spotted ears also turn outward and become very visible when the animal crouches to eat or drink. This sends a message to rivals and scavengers: “I see you thinking about stealing my food, and don’t even think about it!”
Finally, when seen from behind, the eye spots on a bobcat’s ears can trick larger predators, like bears and wolves, into thinking that they’ve been spotted. They may mistake the bobcat for a larger, alert animal looking right back at them! This is particularly important for protecting kittens when they first begin hunting alone!
Domestic cats are among the few members of the cat family who lack white spots on the backs of their ears, so this trait is one helpful way that you can tell the difference between a bobcat and an ordinary house cat!