Scientific Name: Bassariscus astutus


Although sometimes called "ring-tailed cat," this beautiful and seldom-seen mammal actually is a relative of the raccoon, a kinship hinted by the bushy, ringed tail. Ringtails are yellowish gray above, gray below, with a prominent white eye ring. The tail is tipped with black. The animals are about 28 inches long, of which half is tail; weight is about two pounds. Ringtails are remarkably agile climbers. The spectacular tail helps them balance. Their ankles can rotate to let them go headfirst down a cliff or tree.


Ringtails are mammals of the Desert Southwest and mostly occur in southern Colorado, although they have been seen along the foothills of the Front Range and along the major canyons of the Western Slope.


Typical habitat is canyon and mesa country, and most sightings are near water. In fact, the first reports of ringtails in an area often are of animals caught in traps set for mink.


They forage exclusively at night, feeding on mice, birds and insects. They are slim enough to hunt woodrats in their dens. Frequently they hunt in pairs and in autumn forage as family groups. Ringtails have efficient kidneys and may not need to drink, thriving instead on the moisture in their prey.


Three or four blind, nearly naked young are born in May or June. Development is rapid, however, and the young are weaned at about five weeks of age.


By David M. Armstrong Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History University of Colorado-Boulder

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