Commonly confused wildlife in Canada

Bobcat and lynx

One of the most rewarding aspects of spending time in the great outdoors is spotting and admiring all the different types of wildlife. But whether you’re completely new to the animal-watching game it’s easy to confuse one species for another. This handy guide highlights some of the most commonly confused wildlife in Canada to help you figure out exactly what animal you’re ogling.

Canadian Lynx and Bobcats

Canada Lynx. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Bobcat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why they’re often confused: These big cats may be separate species, but they both belong to the Lynx genus and are quite similar in appearance. Both cats are medium-sized with long tufted ears and short bobbed tails.

How to tell the difference: Bobcats resemble overgrown family pets. They have shorter coats that range in colour but are most commonly brown. Lynx on the other hand have a stranger, more exotic appearance due to their steel-grey fur, the extra-long tufted hair on their ears, and their fuller mane. While each species has a bobbed tail, the bobcat’s is striped and tipped with white on the top. The Lynx’s tail is marked with a black tip. Lynx also have longer legs than bobcats and their feet are large enough to function as mini snowshoes in wintery climates. Lynx tend to stick to forested areas, while bobcats can be found in more varied landscape, ranging from marshes to desserts. So if you run into a giant cat far away from a forest it’s probably a bobcat. Not that you’d want to get up-close-and-personal with either, but a lynx encounter might be more preferable. Both cats are predators, but bobcats are known for their relentless, vicious hunting skills and bold fearless attitude.

Wasps and Bees

Wasp Wikimedia Commons
Wasp. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Honey Bee
Honey Bee. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why they’re often confused: Wasps and bees both belong to the Hymenoptera order of insects. But the average person probably mixes these little guys up because they’re both black and yellow, and likely buzzing around their heads.

How to tell the difference: Bees are pollen collectors so they have round hairy bodies to which the all-important powder will stick. Wasps have smoother, shinier skin with slender legs and a narrow waist. You might be fearful of a painful sting from either of these insects, but bees are actually quite docile and unlikely to attack. Wasps are much more aggressive, will fiercely protect their nests, and are dangerously attracted to your delicious picnic set-up. Bees are usually too preoccupied with flowers to bother much with humans.

Lizards and Salamanders

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Lizard. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Salamander. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why they’re often confused: They seem like similar creatures, with their long tails, short legs and slithering movements.

How to tell the difference: Lizards are actually reptiles, while salamanders are amphibians, so beyond their physical appearance they actually don’t have much in common. Lizards have a rough, scaly exterior, while salamanders have smooth, moist (some might say slimy) skin. Lizards’ toes are quite long, while salamanders’ are stumpy. You’ll always find salamanders hanging out near the water because they spend a lot of time splashing around. Lizards can migrate over a number of different climates, including hot, dry landscapes. They will also grow to be much longer than salamanders.

Deer and Elk

Deer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Bull elk
Elk. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why they’re often confused: These large and majestic forest-dwelling mammals are both members of the deer family. Both are quite iconic in Canada but their similar physical appearance, particularly when it comes to their antlers, has led to mix-ups.

How to tell the difference: There are a number of different attributes that can help you tell the two apart. While elk tend to have a short tail, white-tailed deer have a long tail with (not surprisingly) a white underside. In terms of colouring, elk generally have a tan rump patch, black legs and a black neck; a white-tailed deer’s legs are the same colour as their body and they have a white throat patch. Then there’s the antlers: Deer antlers tend to curve forward, while elk antlers sweep back.

Frogs and Toads

frog wikimedia commons
Frog. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
toad wikimedia commons
Toad. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why they’re often confused: Technically toads are a type of frog, so the mix-up is understandable. But the amphibian we most commonly picture when we use the term frog has come to be known as a “true frog,” while a toad is considered something else entirely.

How to tell the difference: Frogs belong to the Ranidae family and are generally found in wet climates. Their skin is smooth and moist and their feet are strong and webbed—optimal for leaping and swimming. Toads are members of the bufonidae family and they prefer dryer environments. Their skin is very dry and covered in bumps that resemble warts. Their legs are short and stumpy, designed for walking rather than hopping. Frogs eyes bulge out on both sides, while toads eyes do not. You can also tell the difference between the two by the way they lay their eggs. Frog eggs are clustered together while toad eggs will be in a long chain.