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Arizona Ringtail Cats

Picture of Ringtail Cat By Robert Body at Camelback Mountain Ringtail Cat © Robert Body

The Ringtail Cat is sleek and cunning and somewhat "cat-like" but is not a cat at all. It actually belongs to the raccoon family. This beautiful animal has a unique appearance that resembles a combined look of a small fox, a fluffy raccoon and yes, a domestic house cat. Its long bushy tail has distinctive, alternating black and white rings from which it gets its name. An adult will weigh about 2 to 3 pounds.

The Official Arizona State Mammal. The Ringtail Cat is rarely seen because it is nocturnal, sleeping by day and hunting at night. Its usual habitat is desert regions and make their homes in hard to get places around rock piles, large boulder outcroppings and canyon walls. In the Phoenix area, you may be fortunate to experience them as you hike up the trail at Piestewa Peak during late evenings through the dark of night.

Facts, Characteristics and Behavior

The Ringtail cat is mostly solitary choosing to be alone except during mating season between February and May. It gives live birth after a gestation period of around 50 days. The young are weaned at about 9 weeks. The female will bring them food to the den for the first 2 months at which time the little ones begin foraging for food with mom.

Ringtails are very skilled climbers as they scurry up and down canyon rocks, boulders , trees and even cactus. They are able to descend at steep angles by rotating their hind feet 180 degrees enabling firm grips and quick changes in direction.

Being nocturnal, they hunt at night with keen smell and eyesight. Its diet primarily consists of a variety of small mammals, reptiles and birds but is supplemented with fruit and plant life. If they are nesting near farms and ranches, they will invade chicken coops.

Ringtail cats sleep during daylight hours nesting in dens that may be located in rock crevices, hollow logs, brush piles and even in nearby buildings. In the early days, miners and ranchers would let them have interior access to barns and cabins to control rat and mice populations. Some still do.

The primary predators of ringtails are fox, coyotes, bobcats and large owls. Some farmers and ranchers deem them pests because they attack chickens and invade fruit orchards. Besides, they can become very noisy at night by barking, hissing and growls. They also emit a foul odor.

Range of Ringtail Cats

They primarily exist in the southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and southeastern California. But there are Ringtail species that extend into Texas, Kansas and Oregon. They also inhabit the desert regions of Northern Mexico and Baja California. The Ringail was officially designated as the State Mammal of Arizona in 1986.

Video: Ringtail Cat in Phoenix

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