Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ringtail Cat

I knew of their existence in Texas, but never thought I would actually ever see one. Well actually I didn’t see it "in person". A buddy of mine had a camera trap set up near one of his deer feeders and captured a sweet photo of one that happened by. They had been getting lots of photos of raccoons here, so when I first saw this picture I was only focused on the tail thinking it was a raccoon until I noticed the difference in body type. That’s when my jaw dropped.
Primarily a nocturnal animal, ringtails (Bassariscus astusus) are not actually cats, but in fact are related to raccoons. They are though like cats in the way they groom themselves and by way of being very curious creatures. Some say they resemble a cross between a fox and a raccoon due to its fox-like face and it elongated raccoon-like body and tail. The scientific name, Bassariscus astusus, when broken down basically means “cunning little fox”. They inhabit rocky, semi-arid regions and are very adept at climbing and negotiating tree limbs, crevices, rocks, and tight ledges. They are able to rotate their hind feet 180 degrees furthering their agile abilities. They are also very secretive and rarely seen during the daylight hours when they’re usually asleep in their dens. Dens are located usually in hollow trees, stumps or logs, caves and between or under rocks. They are mainly carnivorous consuming rodents, rabbits, squirrels, small birds, toads, frogs, snakes, lizards, insects (grasshoppers, crickets), spiders, scorpions, and centipedes, but will also eat various fruits (hackberries, mistletoe, persimmons), prickly pear cactus, juniper berries, and the nectar of the agave plant. Mating occurs between February and June producing litters of 1-5 young born in May or June. Predators include great-horned owls, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and even their cousin the raccoon. Farmers have also been known to kill them because of the damage they may cause to orchards and poultry. Vocalizations include squeaks, barks, screams, whimpers, and snarls.

Other interesting facts:

~ Known as “cacomistles” which is a term coined by Nahuatl (Aztec) Indians, which means “half mountain lion”.

~ They’re also known as “miner’s cats”, because years ago miners would use them to rid their quarters of disease carrying rodents.

~ Ringtails are the official state mammal of Arizona

~ Their claws are retractable and rarely show in their tracks. They have five toes on each foot.

~ They wrap their furry tails around themselves during the winter months to stay warm.

~ Ringtails are said to make good pets.

Check these out:

Ringtail skull

Ringtail tracks

Ringtail scat

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