The Often-Elusive Ring Tailed Cat

ring tailed cat

Picture by Robertbody

This is another case where the common name of an animal is quite inaccurate. Ring tailed cats aren’t felines. This can be seen from the scientific name: Bassariscus astutus. However, they are common in many states in the United States, particularly in the west, and they are interesting little creatures.

Ring Tailed Cat Range

Ring tails have been sighted in Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and even in Mexico. They have also been seen in Ohio. Part of the reason they are widespread could be that these animals seem to be just about as comfortable in conifer and scrub forests as they are in canyons, desert locations, rocky areas, and even along rivers, lake shores, streams and in marshy areas. They also live from lowlands to nearly the tree line in mountainous areas like the Cascade Mountains.

Ring tailed cats in general

These creatures have also been called cacomistles, to which they are closely related, although they aren’t cacomistles. True cacomistles belong to the same genus, Bassariscus, though. The genus name means ‘cunning little fox’, even though it also isn’t a member of the vulpine or fox family. They are actually members of the raccoon, or Procyonidae, family. Since the mid 1980s, this species has also been the state mammal of the state of Arizona.

Appearance and description of ring tailed cats

In appearance, these are slender animals and somewhat shaped like a cat. Their coloration is similar to that of a raccoon, though: Brownish on the back and sides, lighter on the belly. As implied by the common name, the long, bushy tail has prominent black and white rings. The face is narrow and long, and the animal has large, rounded ears.

From the tip of the snout to the base of the tail, ring tailed cats grow to a little over 16 inches, with the tail being a little longer than the body. These creatures are built low to the ground, though, and seldom get taller than seven inches at the shoulder. Ring tail adults usually weigh less than two pounds, so they aren’t as heavy as most house cats. The claws can be partly retracted and these animals have a lot of sharp teeth, 40 to be precise. This is a large number of teeth for a mammal, even though ring tailed cats are predatory.

Behavior and breeding of ring tailed cats

Ring tailed cats are mostly nocturnal animals, though they are occasionally seen at dusk. They aren’t social and normally aren’t found in groups, except for the mother and her young.

One to five babies are born in May to June in a den. The babies are weaned after about 75 days and they become sexually mature before they are a year old. This is necessary because in the wild, these critters only live about six years.

Diet and predation of ring tailed cats

Technically, this species isn’t a carnivore, they are omnivores, eating both plants and animals. They will eat fruits of several kinds. However their dietary preference seems to be for small animals, including mice, squirrels, rabbits, rats, snakes, lizards, frogs, small birds, bird eggs, insects and they will even sometimes scavenge.

The most common predators for ring tailed cats are bobcats, coyotes, foxes and owls. This animal species does have anal scent glands that it uses to produce a powerful and disagreeable musk, rather like skunks, weasels and minks, and this is used as a defense mechanism.

Conservational status of ring tailed cats

Because of the nocturnal habits, ring tails aren’t seen very often, with just a few exceptions. However, it doesn’t appear to be in danger and is considered to be an animal of least concern. Counting them can be difficult, but they can be locally populous.

It has been reported that these animals make good pets, if they are taken when young. There is some indication that they were once kept as pets by miners, who found them helpful in controlling the mouse populations in mines. Hence another common name for this animal is Miner’s cat.

These are interesting little animals, though somewhat elusive due to their nocturnal habits. They cause more good than harm. Still, a person can consider themselves lucky if they actually see one in the wild.




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