Their agile nature means that North American ringtails occur both in forests and also more arid rocky areas, where they can also move around easily.
Ring-tailed cats are found from the western United States to southern Mexico. They are most commonly found in highland forests. They prefer rocky areas, such as canyons, but also occupy a range of lowland habitats, including deserts, woodland and shrubland. Although they prefer dry environments, they are also common near rivers, where food is easier to find.
When ready to give birth, females make a den under a boulder or in a hollow tree. The young are suckled for ten weeks, after which the mother has to find food for the young. The father may stay nearby - and be tolerated by the female - and play with his offspring as they grow. The young disperse after about ten months. Mating occurs from spring through to early summer. At birth, the young lack the striped tail pattern, being mainly white. They are noisy, making a wide range of calls, often squeaking, hissing and growling.
The Ring-tailed cats are most active at night, spending most of their time foraging. They are excellent climbers, and literally search high and low for rodents, squirrels, insects and other small animals. When they finish eating, they groom themselves by licking their fur, wiping their head clean with damp paws. If threatened, their tail bristles and arches over their head, making them look larger.
This species is named after its bushy tail, which is ringed with black and white stripes, much like the tails of raccoons. However, ring-tailed cats have more agile, cat-like bodies than raccoons. Both the ringtail and the cacomistle, its relative, are largely solitary, and become aggressive towards intruders into their territory. A ringtail scent-marks its territory by regularly urinating at specific sites.
North American ringtails are also locally known as miner’s cats. This is because their young used to be trapped and tamed, so they could keep the cabins occupied by the miners free from rodents.
Distribution: South-west Oregon, California, southern Utah and Nevada, western Colorado and southern Kansas and Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to Mexico and Costa Rica.
Habitat: Rocky areas, woodland and shrubland, and montane conifer forest.
Weight: 0.9 - 1.3 kg (2 - 3 lb); males are heavier.
Length: 91 - 124 cm (36 - 49 in); stands up to 16 cm (6 in) tall.
Maturity: About 10 months old.
Gestation period: Between 45 - 50 days.
Breeding: Averages 2 - 4, but can be up to 5; weaning occurs at about 42 days.
Food: Carnivorous, hunting small mammals, birds and invertebrates; also eats fruit and nuts.
Lifespan: 7 - 10 years, up to 19 in captivity.
These are remarkably flexible, allowing the Ring-tailed cat to swivel its position by 180°, helping it to climb.
Ranges from buff to greyish-brown, with the underparts being paler in colouration.
Its appearance explains why this member of the raccoon family is known as a ringtail.
Relatively large and surrounded with white spectacles of fur.
They sleep in dens, usually lined with dry vegetation such as leaves.
MEETING OF TWO PREDATORS
If it finds itself under threat, the Ring-tailed Cat can escape danger by flipping backwards, pivoting on its tail.