Wondrous Wildlife
Not Your Ordinary Kitty
By Vern and Lori Gieger

     Despite the prominence of “cat” in the common names; coon cat, miner’s cat, etc., Ringtail cats are not even remotely related to the cat family. The Cacomistle (as they are called in Mexico) is the smallest member of the raccoon family. It is a fascinating conglomeration of visuals of other animals; with the tail of a raccoon, the face of a fox, a slender cat like body, but with a personality all its own! They can leap like a squirrel, are as agile as a monkey, and as clever as a fox.
     The ringtail is a remarkable animal. A bit smaller than your average house cat its beige body is compact and sleek with an elongated, pointed muzzle. Dark brown to black hairs surround the large eyes, creating a mask. Accented by large grayish-brown ears edged in white.
     However, it is the beautiful long, black and white ringed tail this animal’s most striking feature, which has led to its most common name, ringtail cat.  Generally, this is a quiet, solitary animal, but when cornered or upset it can bark, snarl or scream; the young make a metallic squeak. 
     Ringtails are found throughout Mexico in a variety of habitats from rocky areas such as rock piles, stone fences, and canyon walls, to woodland areas where they live in hollow trees and logs. They are expert climbers, capable of ascending vertical walls, so they have little difficulty in searching out food in well-protected crevices, crannies, and hollows.
     You have probably never seen or never will—the Cacomistle a.k.a. the Ring Tailed Cat. It is rare throughout its range, and is very susceptible to the effects of deforestation since they are so dependent on trees.  Their (a pair) territories can cover up to 136 hectares and do not overlap.
     They are nocturnal and shy, spending the greater part of the day asleep in their dens and venturing out at night to feed. Ringtails’ are omnivorous and will eat almost anything, rats, mice, squirrels, snakes, lizards, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and centipedes, as well as fruits of native plants.
     Ringtails usually have three cubs born in May to June. They are weaned at 4 – 5 weeks. By two months of age, they hunt with their parents, both of who contribute to their welfare.  Although the mother is responsible for most of the care of the young, she will sometimes tolerate the presence of the father and allow him to associate and play with the young.
     A few interesting “ringtail facts: The ringtail cat is the State Mammal of Arizona. Better “mousers” than cats, Ringtails were placed in frontier mines to control rodents, earning the name “Miner’s Cat.” Cacomistle” derives from tlacomiztli, which in the language of Mexico’s Nahautl Indians means “half mountain lion.” Neither its fur nor its meat is valuable, but man is still one of its chief predators. There are two distinct species of Ringtail, the first is the species found commonly in the United States and the second is the Mexican species. Conservation Status: IUCN: Vulnerable CITES: Appendix III