Babisuri, Bandtailed cat, Bassarisk, Cacomistle, Cacomixtle, Cat squirrel, Civet cat, Coon cat, Coon fox, Miner’s cat, Ringtail cat, Ringtailed cat, Ring-tailed cat
The ringtail is a small carnivore belonging to the raccoon family, about the same size as a domestic cat and looking like a small fox with a tail like a raccoon. It seems perfectly designed as a climbing animal for exploiting the desert’s ledges, cracks and vertical cliffs. Their long tail provides them with balance for negotiating limbs and narrow ledges, and they can even reverse direction by doing a cartwheel. They are able to rotate their back feet 180 degrees, providing them with purchase for the rapid descent of cliffs, trees or cacti. In addition, ringtails can go up narrow passages by “stemming,” which is pressing all four feet on one wall with their back against the opposite wall or pressing both their right feet against one wall and both their left feet against the other, and managing wider openings or cracks by ricocheting between the two walls.
The ringtail is widespread and common across southern North America and Mexico. It can be found from Oaxaca in southern Mexico and the desert area of Baja California, and also on the islands of Tiburón, Espíritu Santo and San José in the Gulf of California. Ringtails also occur throughout the south-western United States, from California and Oregon to Texas. It occurs across a range of habitats, such as semi-arid oak forest, juniper and pinyon pine forest, conifer forest, montane (forest in mountains) chaparral (scrub habitat with mostly thorny, evergreen shrubs), rocky areas and canyons and desert. It adapts well also to disturbed areas and often is found inside buildings.
Habits and lifestyle
A ringtail is mostly active at night and sometimes at dusk. It spends much of its time foraging for food. After it has eaten, it grooms itself sitting on its haunches in the manner of a cat. It is a very good climber and has several physical locomotory and behavioral adaptations. Ringtails are able to maneuver agilely and quickly among ledges and cliffs by ricocheting from one wall to the other. This species is solitary apart from during the mating season. Its home range can be as large as 136 ha depending on availability of cover and food. Males generally have bigger home ranges than females. Home ranges of ringtails of the same gender do not overlap. These animals use a variety of vocalizations. Adults are able to emit an explosive bark, a high-pitched, long call and a piercing scream. Infants emit metallic chirps, whimpers and squeaks. Scent marking is another important type of communication for this species.
Diet and nutrition
Ringtails are omnivores, eating both animal and plant material. They eat small rodents, squirrels, rabbits, insects, and even animals that are dead. They may eat juniper berries, persimmons, hackberry, prickly pear cacti, acorns, and other fruits and berries.
The mating system of this species is not known. Mating usually takes place from February to May, with most births taking place in May or June, following gestation of 51 to 54 days. Litters typically consist of one to four babies. Young are born inside a den and at birth are helpless, and their eyes do not open until around 31 to 34 days. The young ringtails start to eat solid food at around seven weeks old, and are weaned at eight to ten weeks, beginning to forage with their mothers at about two months old. Fathers are sometimes tolerated and they may play with their young as they get older. Ringtails reach sexual maturity around 10 months of age.
A widespread and common species that will adapt well to disturbed areas, ringtails are not currently thought to be at great risk of extinction. The major threat is that it is trapped legally for fur in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. It is also caught incidentally in some areas in traps that are set for other furred species such as raccoons and foxes. Other potential threats are collisions with vehicles and infectious diseases like toxoplasmosis, rabies, and canine parvovirus transmitted via feral cats and dogs.
According to IUCN, ringtail is common and widely distributed throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Ringtails play an important role in their ecosystem as a food source for larger predators, influencing the populations of its own prey, and probably assisting in seed dispersal.
Fun facts for kids
- The name "ringtail" is from the seven or so black rings on tail of the animal.
- Ringtails sometimes were kept in the homes of early settlers in America and in prospectors' camps as mousers and companions, hence its name "miner's cat." They are said to make reasonably good pets if they are caught while young.
- In Mexico, "cacomistles" is a name that is often used for this animal, derived from the Aztec language. In Spanish, it has the meaning of "nimble thief".
- The ringtail’s scientific name means “cunning little fox”.
- The ringtail can survive in hot, arid regions with little drinking water.