Ring-tailed cat

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For other uses, see Ringtail (disambiguation).
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Procyonidae
Genus: Bassariscus
Species: B. astutus
Binomial name
Bassariscus astutus
(Lichtenstein, 1830)
  • Bassariscus a. arizonensis
  • Bassariscus a. flavus
  • Bassariscus a. yumanensis
  • Bassariscus a. nevadensis
Ring-tailed Cat area.png
Ring-tailed cat range

The ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) is a mammal of the raccoon family (thus not actually a cat), native to arid regions of North America. It is also known as the ringtail cat, ring-tailed cat, miner's cat or marv cat, and is also sometimes mistakenly called a "civet cat" (after similar, though unrelated, cat-like omnivores of Asia and Africa). The ringtail is sometimes called a cacomistle, though this term seems to be more often used to refer to Bassariscus sumichrasti.

Physical description[edit]

The ringtail cat is buff to dark brown in color with white underparts and a flashy black and white striped tail that has 14–16 white and black stripes,[2] which is longer than the rest of its body. The claws are short, straight, and semi-retractable.[3] The eyes are large and black, each surrounded by a patch of light fur. It is smaller than a housecat and is one of the smallest extant procyonids (only the smallest in the olingo species group average smaller). It measures 30–42 cm (12–17 in) long to the base of the tail with the tail adding another 31–44 cm (12–17 in). It can weigh from 0.7 to 1.5 kg (1.5 to 3.3 lb).[4] Ringtails have occasionally been hunted for their pelts, but the fur is not especially valuable.

Range and habitat[edit]

The ringtail is found in Central America, Northern South America, California, Colorado, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Nevada, Texas, Utah and throughout northern and central Mexico. Its distribution overlaps that of B. sumichrasti in the Mexican states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Veracruz.[3] It has been reported to be living in western Louisiana, although no conclusive evidence has been found to support this. It is found in rocky desert as its habitat, where it nests in the hollows of trees or abandoned wooden structures. The ringtail is the state mammal of Arizona. It is also found in the Great Basin Desert. The Great Basin desert covers most of Nevada and over half of Utah, as well as parts of California, Idaho, and Oregon. The ringtail prefers to live in rocky habitats associated with water. These areas can include riparian canyons, caves, and mine shafts. It can also be found in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, US.

The ankle joint is flexible and able to rotate over 180 degrees, a trait helping make it an agile climber. Their considerable tail provides balance for negotiating narrow ledges and limbs, even allowing them to reverse directions by performing a cartwheel. Ringtails also can ascend narrow passages by stemming (pressing all feet on one wall and their back against the other or pressing both right feet on one wall and both left feet on the other), and wider cracks or openings by ricocheting between the walls.[5]


Ringtail in Phoenix, Arizona

Much like the common raccoon, the ringtail is nocturnal and solitary. It is also timid towards humans and seen much more rarely than raccoons. Despite its shy disposition and small body size, the Ringtail is arguably the most actively carnivorous species of procyonid, as even the closely related cacomistle eats a larger portion of fruits, insects and refuse. Small vertebrates such as passerine birds, rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards, frogs and toads are the most important food during winters.[4] However, the Ringtail is omnivorous, as are all procyonids. Berries and insects are important in the diet year-round and become the primary part of the diet in spring and summer along with fruit.[6] Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, hawks and owls will opportunistically prey upon ringtails of all ages, though most predominantly younger, more vulnerable specimens.[4] They produce a variety of sounds, including clicks and chatters reminiscent of raccoons. A typical call is a very loud, plaintive bark. As adults, these mammals lead solitary lives, generally coming together only to mate.


Ringtails mate in the spring. The gestation period is 45–50 days, during which the male will procure food for the female. There will be 2–4 cubs in a litter. The cubs open their eyes after a month, and will hunt for themselves after four months. They reach sexual maturity at ten months. The ringtail's lifespan in the wild is about seven years.[7]


Ringtail in Phoenix, Arizona

The ringtail is said to be easily tamed, and can make an affectionate pet and effective mouser. Miners and settlers once kept pet ringtails to keep their cabins free of vermin; hence, the common name of "miner's cat" (though in fact the ringtail is no more cat than it is civet). The ringtails would move into the miners' and settlers' encampments and become accepted by humans in much the same way that some early domestic cats were theorized to have done. At least one biologist in Oregon[who?] has joked that the ringtail is one of two species— the domestic cat and the ringtail— that thus "domesticated humans" due to that pattern of behavior.

Often a hole was cut in a small box and placed near a heat source (perhaps a stove) as a dark, warm place for the animal to sleep during the day, coming out after dark to rid the cabin of mice.


  1. ^ Timm, R., Reid, F. & Helgen, K. (2008). Bassariscus astutus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved January 26, 2009.
  2. ^ Lu, Julie. "The Biogeography of Ringtailed Cats". San Francisco University. Retrieved December 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Poglayen-Neuwall, Ivo; Toweill, Dale E. (1988). "Bassariscus astutus". Mammalian Species (327): 1. doi:10.2307/3504321. 
  4. ^ a b c Hunter, Luke (2011) Carnivores of the World, Princeton University Press, ISBN 9780691152288
  5. ^ Williams, David B. "Ringtail Cat (Bassariscus astutus)". DesertUSA.com. Retrieved December 2010. 
  6. ^ Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus). Nsrl.ttu.edu. Retrieved on April 17, 2013.
  7. ^ Postanowicz, Rebecca. "Ringtailed Cat". lioncrusher.com. Archived from the original on April 16, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2007. [dead link]

Further reading[edit]

  • Nowak, Ronald M. (2005). Walker's Carnivores of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8032-7

External links[edit]

Media related to Bassariscus astutus at Wikimedia Commons