The ringtail is a small mammal belonging to the Raccoon family. Native to North America, the Ringtail or binomial scientific name "Bassariscus astutus" is found throughout California, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and parts of northern Mexico.
Throughout time, it has also been known as the "ringtail cat" or "miner's cat". These names were given to the animal by miners who tamed and kept the ringtails as pets throughout the 19th century and early 20th centuries. When effectively tamed, the ringtail made a good pet who kept the miner's cabin free of mice and other vermin.
The ringtail is generally dark brown in color with a white underbelly and white fur encircling its large black eyes. Its fluffy black and white-striped tail is very distinctive and measures longer than its body. Smaller than your average housecat, the ringtail is a highly agile climber whose ankle joints can rotate over 180 degrees.
The ringtail weighs between 3 - 6 pounds and measures 12 - 16 inches long without its tail. The tail, often longer than its body measures another 14 - 18 inches in length. As you can see from its tracks, the ringtail possesses small "fingers" which they use in adept fashion to grasp branches, dig out hollows and forage for food. At home in the desert and mountains, the ringtail prefers forested, rocky areas where it can build a nest in the hollow of a tree or or rocky outcrop. While sleeping during winter, it will wrap its tail around its body for added warmth.
Omnivorous in nature and nocturnal by activity, the ringtail is rarely seen during the day. At night, it preys upon nuts, berries, small rodents, lizards and even small birds. It is preyed upon by coyotes, large raptors, owls, bobcat and mountain lion. After being eaten by its predators, you will often find only the striped tail of the ringtail, which is clearly not considered good eating by its natural foes.
The ringtail is a solitary animal who mates in the spring. Females can litter 2-3 young at a time and give birth only once a year after a gestation period of around 50 days, relatively short for the Raccoon family. The lifespan of a ringtail in the wild averages 7 years but they can live twice that long in captivity.