The enormous paws of the Canada lynx are a good example of evolution (natural selection)

This wonderful photograph of a Canada lynx padding its way through snow amply illustrates the enormous paws of this medium-sized wild cat weighing approximately 8-11 kg. It is a wild cat species which closely resembles the bobcat but the paws of the bobcat are much smaller because it has not evolved to live in a snowy environment. The bobcat doesn’t like deep snow as they can’t move through it and therefore their distribution in North America stops short of deep snowfall whereas the Canada lynx has evolved, thanks to natural selection, to happily live in deep snow.

The paws of the Canada lynx are huge, very impressive and frankly very cute!
The paws of the Canada lynx are huge, very impressive and frankly very cute! The picture, I believe, is in the public domain.
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Canada lynx paws versus bobcat paws.
Canada lynx paws versus bobcat paws. I believe the photograph is in the public domain.

Both the Canada lynx and the bobcat are muscular, leggy and stand about 48 to 56 cm high at the shoulder with hind limbs that are longer than the forelimbs which means they tip forward slightly. But the paws of the bobcat are much smaller. The lynx paws can support twice the weight of bobcat paws. They are like snowshoes.

The Canada lynx has fur over their paw pads to protect the paw against the cold snow. There is a great picture of a woman holding a large Canada lynx which tells us that they can be domesticated to a certain extent; perhaps to a large extent depending upon the circumstances. Lynxes are about 2-3 times heavier than your average house cat. The Eurasian lynx is the biggest subspecies of lynx.

Canada lynx with huge paws
Canada lynx with huge paws. Photo: in in public domain.

Lynx paws are abnormally out of proportion to the rest of the body which makes them look very cute. It is a very attractive feature of this wild cat. An expert on nature, Mary Holland, explores the paws of bobcats and the Canada lynx. I’d like to quote her on this topic.

Bobcats and Canada Lynx are in the same genus, and are roughly the same size (averaging 15 to 35 pounds), with Bobcats usually weighing a bit more than Lynx. The size of their feet is vastly different, however, and not proportional to their relative weights. A Lynx has much larger feet and longer legs than a Bobcat. Its range extends further north, which means it must be well equipped to deal with snow much of the year. A Lynx has big, furry paws, and when its feet land the toes spread way out. Both of these adaptations help a Lynx’s feet act like snowshoes, helping it to chase down food in the winter. Much of the time, this food consists of Snowshoe Hares –anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the diet of Lynx is made up of hares. The soles of Snowshoe Hare feet are also well-furred, particularly in winter, enabling them to run on soft, deep snow without sinking in very far. Because Snowshoe Hares are extremely fast and agile (reaching speeds of 30 mph and jumping 12 feet in a single bound), the feet of any serious predator must also be well adapted to traveling on snow.

Mary Holland

Snowshoe hare population

The Canada lynx population size in Canada follows the population size of the snowshoe hare and there is a graph online which I present below which shows this very clearly. When there are lots of snowshoe hares around there’s more Canada lynx around as well. But without those paws they wouldn’t be able to chase them effectively. If they couldn’t run on snow they wouldn’t survive.

A graph which shows how the population size of the Canada lynx follows the population size of the snowshoe hare.
A graph which shows how the population size of the Canada lynx follows the population size of the snowshoe hare.


The reason why I have linked the evolution of the paws of the Canada lynx with evolution is because I would like to see if I can change the minds of some American creationists. I’m told that according to a survey conducted by Gallup, 40% of Americans believe in creationism. That means they don’t believe in the concept of evolution as set out in Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species (1859). It’s a book which must have caused a lot of concern when it was first published because the world was more religious in those days. In many ways the concept of natural selection debunks religion. His book amply describes how the Canada lynx has evolved to have huge paws to allow it to survive in deep snow in the north of Canada.

His theory is now widely accepted but you may be surprised to note the remarkable number of Americans who still believe in creationism. Surely when they look at the Canada lynx’s huge paws they might think twice about their beliefs?

Other countries have an even higher percentage of creationists. For example, in South Africa a 2011 survey found that 56% of participants identified themselves as creationists. To be clear, creationists believe that the world (and I presume the universe) was created by God. They don’t believe that humans evolved from apes. That aspect of human evolution may be very difficult for many humans to digest. To think that we evolved from apes dents the human ego too much for some people.

The church wants people to keep believing in creationism as demonstrated by the Pentecostal church in Kenya which in 2006 launched a campaign to give less prominence to fossilised human bones displayed in the National Museum.

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