|The ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) is a mammal of the raccoon family, native to North America. It is also known as the ringtail cat or miner's cat, and is sometimes mistakenly called a civet cat, which is a different species.
The ringtail is sometimes called a cacomistle, though this term seems to be more often used to refer to Bassariscus sumichrasti (also known as Jentinkia sumichrasti).
The ringtail is buff to dark brown in color with white underparts and a flashy black and white striped tail which is longer than the rest of its body. The eyes are large and black, each surrounded by a patch of light fur. It is smaller than a housecat, measuring 30–42 cm long with a tail of 31–44 cm and weighing 0.8–1.5 kg. Ringtails have occasionally been hunted for their pelts, but the fur is not terribly valuable.
Range and Habitat
The ringtail is found throughout California, Colorado,Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and parts of northern Mexico. It is found in rocky, forested habitat, where it nests in the hollows of trees or abandoned wooden structures. The ringtail is the state mammal of Arizona.
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.
It is nocturnal, solitary, timid, and rarely seen. It is omnivorous, eating fruits, berries, insects, lizards, small rodents, and birds. Owls, coyotes, raccoons and bobcats prey on ringtails. Ringtails make a variety of sounds, including clicks and chatters reminiscent of raccoons. The call is a very loud, plaintive bark. As adults they lead solitary lives, except when a male and female come together 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 seven years.
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. A hole was cut in a small box and placed near a wood-burning stove as a dark, warm place for the ringtail to sleep during the day. The animal would come out at night to prey on mice.