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Ringtail at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. Click to see more.


Bassariscus astutus


Procyonidae, coati and raccoon family

Conservation Status

Least concern, IUCN


Southwestern North America from Oregon south to Central Mexico


Various – including semi-arid oak forest, pinyon pine or juniper forest, chaparral, desert, rocky areas and canyons.


Modern ringtails so closely resemble their upper tertiary (2 mil.+ years) ancestors that they are like living fossils.

Small, cat-like animal with a long fluffy, black and white ringed tail. Body color is grayish brown. Delicate pointed face and dark, round eyes. Total length is 25-30 in. (half of that is tail), shoulder height is 6 inches, weight about 2 lbs. Nocturnal and omnivorous like the raccoon, consuming a great variety of foods: small rodents, birds, lizards, insects, fruits, acorns, berries and other vegetable matter. These animals prefer animals but will eat plants. 

Unlike the raccoon, it may be found long distances from water – lives by familiar desert survival techniques: hides from sun during the day, is active at night when it’s cooler and eats anything edible it can find or catch to provide food and moisture. Very agile, can reverse direction and ascend narrow passages by ricocheting off walls. Their hind feet can rotate 180 degrees. Their claws are semi-retractable, making them excellent climbers. When threatened in the open will arch tail over back to look larger and vocalize with barks, screams and high pitched calls. May emit a few drops of musk scent from anal gland but does not spray like a skunk.

Ringtails were often adopted by miners as mousers thus the nickname “miner’s cat.”

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