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Photo Credit: Lazette Gifford
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Bassariscus astutus
OTHER NAMES: Ring-tailed Cat, Miner’s Cat, Civet Cat, and Cacomistle (Aztec)
DESCRIPTION: While ringtails belong to the Procyonidae family (raccoon family), they are smaller and more slender than raccoons. The ringtail’s body weight ranges between 29 to 47 ounces. The face has more of a pointed appearance, with large ears and eyes, and a bushy tail that is approximately the same length as its body. Ringtails have furry feet with hairless pads, and each has five toes, with semi-retractable claws. Ringtails are beige to tan with black tipped guard hairs along their back and a yellowish white belly. They have a white ring around the eyes and a white spot in front of their ears. Their banded tail has six to nine alternating black and white bands.
Ringtails are very good climbers, and they have the ability to move quickly along ledges and bluffs by jumping back and forth between walls. They also have the ability to climb crevices by putting their feet on one wall and their back on the other. They can descend very quickly by rotating their hind feet 180 degrees, which allows their pads and claws to stay in contact with the surface.
Ringtails are active from dusk to dawn, with most of their activity taking place during the darkest hours foraging for food.
DISTRIBUTION: Ringtail can be found in southwest Oregon, southeast through California into southern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to Central America, and Louisiana. Records also have shown a few in Alabama, Arkansas, and Ohio as well.
HABITAT: Ringtails can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from sea level up to 9,514 feet. They can be found in arid regions, riparian areas, pinyon-juniper forests, oak forests, pine forests, and chaparral areas.
FEEDING HABITS: Ringtails are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal material. Ringtails will consume more animal matter than their cousin the raccoon (Procyon lotor). Their diet consists of small rodents, rabbits, squirrels, insects, and even dead animals (carrion). Ringtails may eat plants such as juniper berries, persimmons, hackberry, acorns, prickly pear cacti, and other edible fruits and berries.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Ringtails are solitary animals except during their breeding season. Ringtail breeding season starts in February and runs through May. Female ringtails only have one estrous cycle per season. Once bred, it will take eight weeks for young to develop. Females give birth to young between April and July. At birth, young are fuzzy, blind, and weigh less than one ounce. At one month old, they open their eyes, and around six weeks old they will start to rely more on solid food more than their mother’s milk. While females are the primary caregivers, males may be allowed to play with their offspring. Young ringtails are completely weaned at ten weeks old and at ten months of age reach sexual maturity.
Ringtails have several predators such as great-horned owls, snakes, and domestic cats and dogs. They are also frequently caught in trap sets that are targeting more valuable furbearer species.
Chapman, J. A. and G. A. Feldhamer. 1982. Wild Mammals of North America. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. 579-580.
Goldberg, J. 2003. “Bassariscus astutus” (Online), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 14, 2008 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/ Bassariscus_astutus.html.
Author: Griff Johnson, R.F., Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries