Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Ringtailed cat/Miner's cat

 

February 1, 2017 | View PDF



Ringtail cats are not related to the cat family but are members of the raccoon family, Procyonidae which also includes Kinkajous, and Coatimundis. Ringtails are cat sized animals that resemble a mix between a fox and a raccoon. The face is fox-like, with a pointed snout, and the body is raccoon-like and elongated. The top side of the animal is yellow to dark brown or black, and the underside is a whitish buff. The ears and eyes are large and the eyes are ringed by white fur. The tail is very bushy and can be longer than the head and body in many cases. It is also marked by 14-16 alternating black and white bands for which the animal is named. The average ringtail is 24-32 inches long and weighs between 2 to 5 lbs.

The name “ringtail” comes from the black ring markings that are found on the animal’s tail. Ringtails are also referred to by many other names, like miner’s cat because they were used to help control rodents in mines, civet cat because of the foul odor it secretes when confronted; this name is also an allusion to an African species named Civettictis civetta, which produces a substance called civet that is used in perfumes.

Ringtails usually inhabit deserts, rock plateaus, and canyons in the Southwest states such as Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Texas. They also live in forests in California and Oregon. Ringtails are great climbers and because of their tactile movements and agility, these animals make their homes in mountainous terrain, rock crevices, tree hollows, or under cliffs.

Ringtails are primarily carnivorous but also do eat other food like plants, fruit, and insects. Their diets generally consist of small mammals (rodents, rabbits, squirrels), small birds, insects (spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, centipedes, scorpions), and fruits (persimmon, mistletoe, hackberries). As well, the diet varies throughout the year. In the fall, it consists of mostly plants and insects; in winter, mammals and birds; and in summer, insects. Ringtails are solitary animals, except during mating season, and are nocturnal. They are also quite vocal, especially the young. They will make squeaks, chitters, grunts, growls, and hissing. Ringtails are also exceptionally good climbers, which is why they make their homes in rock crevices, cracks, and cliffs. They are very nimble and can quickly reverse the direction they are moving in by performing a cartwheel using their tail. Another interesting feature is their ability to rotate their hind feet 180°. Ringtails are also able to move up narrow passages by pressing their feet on one side of the wall and pressing their back against the other side or pressing both right feet on one side of the wall and both left feet on the other side.

Ringtails have no special status but are the official state mammal of Arizona. The main predators of ringtails are bobcats, raccoons, foxes, large owls and humans. Although humans are one of their top predators, ringtails are usually killed because they are pests to farmers, damaging poultry and orchards.

Ringtails can be kept as pets.

 

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