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Home > Blog > Wildlife of the Week > The Cunning Ringtail: Wildlife of the Week – 2022 Week 20

Posted: May 22, 2022

Our Wildlife of the Week – 2022 Week 20…

Meet the “Ringtail”!

(Bassariscus Astutus)
Ringtail Cat Closeup
Ringtail Cat Closeup

Ringtail Physical Description

Also known as the Ringtail Cat, Ring-Tailed Cat, Miner’s Cat or Bassarisk, the Ringtail is also the State mammal of Arizona. The body mass of both sexes from throughout the geographic range of Ringtails is from 1.8 to 3.0 lbs (824 to 1,338 g). Head and body length is 12.0 to 16.5 in (305 to 420 mm) and tail length is 12.2 to 17.4 in (310 to 441 mm). Shoulder height is about 6.3 in (160 mm).1

Ringtail in Phoenix, Arizona
Ringtail in Phoenix, Arizona

The upper body is buffy in color with a dark brown wash, and the underparts are a pale buff. The tail is bushy and has black and white rings (hence the common name of the species), much like a raccoon. The eyes are ringed by black or dark brown and set within buffy patches. The body is cat-like with a fox-like face and large oval ears. The claws of these animals are semi-retractable.1

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Ringtail In Action

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) in Saguaro National Park
Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) in Saguaro National Park

Ringtail activity occurs mostly at night and occasionally at dusk. Much of its time is spent foraging for food. After feeding, a Ringtail grooms itself while sitting on its hindquarters in a manner similar to that of a cat. A Ringtail licks its fur and forepaws, which it then uses to wipe its cheeks, snout and ears.1

Ringtails are excellent climbers with several behavioral and physical locomotory adaptations. Ringtails can maneuver quickly and agilely among cliffs and ledges by ricocheting from wall to wall. They can also climb in small crevices by chimney stemming (pressing all four feet on one wall and the back against the other). Rapid, headfirst, vertical descents are accomplished by rotating the hindfoot 180 degrees, allowing the pads of the feet and the claws to retain contact with the substrate.1

The Ringtail is solitary except during the mating season. Home ranges can be up to 0.5 sq. miles (136 ha) depending on the availability of food and cover. Males generally have larger home ranges than females and home ranges of same-sex Ringtails do not overlap.1

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Where to Spot Ringtail

Ringtail Cat released to Jack's Valley open space
Ringtail Cat released to Jack’s Valley open space

Ringtails can be found from southwestern Oregon and eastern Kansas south through California, southern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Baja California and northern Mexico. Outlying records in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Ohio are likely the result of a Ringtail habit of boarding railroad cars and being transplanted as a result.1

Ringtails can be found at elevations of up to 9514 ft (2900 m) but are most common at elevations ranging from sea level to 4593 ft (1400 m). Ringtails utilize a variety of habitats. They prefer habitats with rocky outcroppings, canyons, or talus slopes and can be found in semi-arid country, deserts, chaparral, oak woodlands, pinyon pine woodlands, juniper woodlands and montane conifer forests. They also inhabit riparian (wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams) habitats due to the increased food availability.1

The Ringtail can be found in over 22 National Parks and many other National Park Service sites.2 Including:

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Ringtail Conservation Status

Ringtail in Saguaro National Park
Ringtail in Saguaro National Park

This species has no special conservation status. An important mid-size carnivore, the Ringtail can help keep rodent populations under control.1

Ringtails are sometimes harvested for their fur, however, the coat is not of a very high quality and is generally used as trim only. In the 1976-77 trapping season, the United States produced 88,329 pelts, which sold for an average price of $5.50. The harvest of these animals peaked at about 135,000 in 1978-79 and has since declined. In the 1991-92 season only 5,638 skins were taken, and their average price was $3.62. Although Ringtails now have protection in many states, many fall victim to traps set for other furbearing animals.1

Ringtails cause little economic damage. Occasional domestic poultry are taken and an occasional orchard tree is plundered.1


Ringtails and You

Have you seen a Ringtail in it’s natural environment? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Interested in Wildlife Photography???
Check out this amazing beginners guide from National Geographic:
National Geographic Photo Basics The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Great Photography

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Learn more about all the amazing wildlife in our National Parks and how to safely “Watch Wildlife” on this amazing page with lots of resources from the National Park Service!

Want tips for photographing wildlife? Check out this great article for tips from the National Park Service.


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‘We got some of the above information from the following:
1: Animal Diversity Web – Bassariscus Astutus – Ringtail
2: NPSpecies – Find Parks Where a Species is Found

Check out these recent posts from Discover Our Parks:

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