Photo of the Month: Ringtail

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Ringtail; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Ringtail; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: The ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Though not common, the species is widely distributed within its range and seems to adapt well to disturbed areas.

Habitat: These creatures are found in a variety of dry habitats like semi-arid oak forest and juniper woodland as well as chaparral and rocky desert cliffs. Ringtails range across the western United States from Oregon and California through the southwestern states to Texas and from northern Mexico and Baja California to Vera Cruz.

Diet: As opportunistic omnivores, ringtails will eat whatever is close and available. They are typically more carnivorous than not and prefer to ambush their prey, including small birds, mammals, and reptiles, but they will also forage for grubs, raid birds’ nests, and eat fruit and other plant matter.

Ringtails are slender and graceful with short legs, lithe bodies, and long, bushy, ringed tails. They are fairly tamable, which led to their rise in popularity as companions and “mousers” in prospectors’ camps in the early American West – hence the alternative name of “miner’s cat.”

Ringtails are not actually cats, but relatives of raccoons, and they are the smallest species in the family: they reach 2-3 feet long from nose to tail and weigh 1.75 to 2.5 pounds. Like other nocturnal mammals, ringtails vocalize with hisses, grunts, growls, squeaks, chirps, and other unusual sounds.

Two young female ringtails arrived from the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert on August 12. The sisters can be seen on exhibit in the Winnick Family Children’s Zoo – their “mountain” habitat is located near Muriel’s Ranch.