I've just seen the Planet Earth II's second episode "Mountains" where they shock us with these North American bobcats that can feel mice from the distance of several meters, sneak to them and kill them with a single jump. What is their biggest source of information about them? The smell? Feeling of the quiet rumbling of the earth? Hearing it? Any of it seems almost impossible to me, with regard to the conditions of the polar regions.


You can smell roughly where your pan is cooking, but you can hear it with more precision, in order to pin point something you would tend to use your ears, especially if it is under snow.

Cats use all their senses and experience to hunt. The mice have tunnels under the snow to get around and they mark their territory randomly, so the smell doesn't provide a very precise coordinates for tracking: it propagates via wind, through snow, and takes a lot longer than sound to be sensed by the cat. Smell can travel further amd mouse piss smells strong, and freezes. Freezing temps prevent aromatics from diffusing outwards and from reacting with other chemicals. Snow is a very good thermal and therefore airflow insulator. Wind doesnt go through snow very fast, and aromatics take a while to get through (aromatic molecules can even travel through steel and glass)

Cats can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans, detecting frequencies from 55 Hz up to 79 kHz (a range of 10.5 octaves) and dogs hear from 67 Hz to 45 kHz, a range of about 9 octaves.

To compare the hearing of a cat to that of a bat, the most sensitive range of bat hearing is 15 kHz to 90 kHz. A human adult hears up to 16-18khz and a child up to 20-22khz.

Sound arrives at the cat nearly instantaneously and provides a direct triangulated reference to the mouse position... One sound arrives slightly later than the other depending on the position of the sound source, and the entire sound spectrum is used in the brain to construct a clear image of the mouse position... shuffling sounds and percussive grey noise generated by animal movement tends to have peaks of energy distributed over a wide range. If the mouse is out of it's den in the middle of winter, it means that it's mostly searching for food, forageing, actually quite noisy activities.

Snow dampens the propagation of sound, so in winter you may notice that ambient sound is different in snowy conditions. That cats can pin point a mouse under snow is not that suprising, given the ambient silence of mid winter, the foraging of rodents, and the olfactory and auditory faculties of felines. it's a good quesiton because you wonder what cats do near mole hills, they are probably sensing a lot of activity there that we don't think about.


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    $\begingroup$ And from personal experience, even humans can sometimes hear mice/voles/similar critters under the snow in favorable conditions. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 7 '16 at 20:46

The bobcats have a very sensitive nose, and also a keen sense of sight. They use their senses to view the environment around them.

and their keen eyesight and hearing are always on the alert for possible danger. Very capable predators, bobcats hunt by stalking their prey. from National Trapers Association

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer but needs to be supported by a reference $\endgroup$ – Prince Dec 7 '16 at 7:34

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