Ringtails Like To Be Appreciated

Although they are by nature loners, these clever "cats" don't mind a little human companionship

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Ringtails are actually not cats but procyonids, closely related to raccoons and coatis. They range from southern Mexico to Oregon and eastward to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Though traditionally found in rocky and brushy places, they are not uncommon in metropolitan areas, because of food, water and den sites unintentionally provided by people. Weighing three pounds or so, with keen hearing and superb night vision, ringtails are the most thoroughly nocturnal of native predators. Agile and quick, they are very efficient hunters. About half of their diet may be made up of insects, other invertebrates and small mammals; the other half may, at certain times of the year, consist of berries and other fruits.

Though they are for the most part secret and solitary creatures, ringtails often manifest an easygoing familiarity with humankind. Once they decide people are harmless and rewarding, they seem to lose their natural wariness. They are attracted to the sweetened water in hummingbird feeders and to foods set out for them. They have been known to frequent cabins used by people, sometimes even crawling into occupied sleeping bags. But because of their otherwise stealthy habits, ringtails generally go unnoticed even in areas where they are widely distributed. When they are discovered, they are typically described as "cute," because of their gaudy tail and enormous eyes circled with white fur.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus