Ring-tailed Cat, Bassariscus astutus

The ring-tailed cat (Bassariscus astutus), also known as the ringtail cat or the marv cat, is a species within the raccoon family, Procyonidae, and is native to North America. Its range includes California, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Utah, eastern Kansas, and central and northern Mexico. Its range includes the Great Basin Desert, and it intersects with the range of B. sumichrasti in Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. This species prefers a habitat in arid, rocky areas with a water source like riparian forests, mineshafts, and caves. There are four recognized subspecies under the ring-tailed cat.

The ring-tailed cat reaches an average body length between twelve and seventeen inches, with a tail length between twelve to seventeen inches. It reaches an average weight of up to 3.3 pounds, making it the second smallest member of its family. Its fur is light brown to dark brown in color, with fourteen to sixteen white rings along the fluffy tail. There are white circles of fur surrounding each eye.

The ring-tailed cat is similar to the raccoon in that it is both nocturnal and solitary. It is timid, especially around human settlements, so is not seen nearly as often as the raccoon. Mating season for this species occurs in the spring. The pregnancy period lasts between forty-five and fifty days, resulting in the birth of two to four cubs. The male will gather food for the female while she is pregnant. After about one month, the cubs will open their eyes and are able to hunt at around four months. Sexual maturity is reached at about ten months of age, and members of this species typically live up to seven years in the wild.

The ring-tailed cat eats more meat than any other species in its family, but its diet still contains fruits and other vegetation. Its diet includes small invertebrates like rats, rabbits, squirrels, frogs, and snakes during the winter, but it will eat fruits, berries, and insects during other seasons. Vulnerable individuals, like young and older ring-tailed cats, are often hunted by foxes, birds of prey, bobcats, and coyotes. This species is incredibly agile and adept at climbing trees and narrow ledges. It is capable of making a number of sounds, with the most common being a loud, blunt bark.

It is thought that the ring-tailed cat is easily tamed, making it a great pet and mouse catcher, much like actual cats. One common name for this species, the miner’s cat, is derived from when settlers and miners kept these creatures as pets in order to catch rodents. Some miners would place boxes near stoves and other warm areas for the creatures to sleep. This species is sometimes hunted for its fur, but it is not in demand so hunting is not a major threat to its population numbers. The ring-tailed cat appears on the IUCN Red List () with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”

Image Caption: Ring-tailed Cat, Bassariscus astutus. Credit: USDA Forest Service/Wikipedia