Not Your Ordinary Kitty
By Vern and Lori Gieger
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