The ringtail is a mammal of the raccoon family.
Its cat-like appearance and famed mouse-hunting skills have earned it several common names, including ring-tail cat, civet cat, and miner’s cat.
The ringtail is native to arid regions of North America.
The ringtail is commonly found in rocky desert habitats, where it nests in the hollows of trees or abandoned wooden structures. The ringtail also prefers rocky habitats associated with water, such as the riparian canyons, caves, or mine shafts.
Ranging from 20 to 40 hectares (50 to 100 acres), the territories of male ringtails occasionally intersect with several females.
A ringtail’s home is called a den. They will den in tree hollows, rock crevices, the abandoned burrows of other wildlife, mine shafts, and abandoned buildings, and some are even known to make themselves at
home in the attics of occupied (human) homes.
The ringtail has an average lifespan of 6 to 9 years.
Its body alone measures from 30 to 42 cm (12 to 17 in) and its tail averages 31 to 44 cm (12–17 in) from its base. It typically weighs around 0.7 to 1.5 kg (1.5 to 3.3 lb).
The body is buff to dark brown in color with white underparts and a well-defined black and white striped tail. The eyes are large and black, each surrounded by a patch of light fur. Ringtails’ feet sport short, straight, semi-retractable claws and digital foot pads surrounded by hair, except for the first digits.
The ankle joint is flexible and is able to rotate over 180 degrees, making it an agile climber. Their long 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.
Ringtails are omnivorous, but they show a preference for meat. In their native habitats, they eat rats, mice, squirrels, and cottontails, including carrion – snakes and lizards – insects, mostly grasshoppers and crickets – spiders and scorpions – and fruits of native plants.
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.
When threatened, the ringtail may let out a high-pitched screech and emit a foul-smelling secretion from its anal glands to discourage predators.
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.
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 ring-tail is in the raccoon family). 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 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.
The ringtail has been legally trapped for its fur. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
In Mexico, ringtails are often called “cacomistles” derived from the language of the Aztecs. In Spanish, it means “nimble thief.”