So what kind of creature is a Ringtail? A cat? A raccoon? Or something else entirely?
There’s an intriguing mammal that most folks have never heard of living in parts of the United States — the Ringtail.
Ringtail, photographed in Arizona, showing the source of its name © Robert Body
The Ringtail is a small ground-dwelling mammal found in the arid regions of the Western US and is known by a number of common names including Ring-tailed Cat, Civet Cat or Miner’s Cat.
The name confusion is easy to understand as the Ringtail looks like a cross between a house cat and a raccoon and displays some of the characteristics that make both species appealing to humans.
A Distinctive Look
Averaging a weight of about three pounds, ringtails are nocturnal creatures with large eyes and upright ears that are optimized for activity after dark.
Ringtail face, note distinctive eyes and ears © Robert Body
An adult’s tail is about a foot long, with seven to nine black rings, and generally the same length as the animal’s body. While primarily used for balance the tail can also serve as a distraction for potential predators which focus on and grab its tail rather than the body, giving the Ringtail a greater chance of escaping
So Is The Ringtail A Feline?
It turns out, that despite all the cat references in the colloquial names given to it, the Ringtail is actually a member of the raccoon family. Its cousins found in the US are the Common Raccoon and the White-nosed Coati.
Range of Ringtail
It’s an active creature and can leap like a squirrel and use its sharp claws to climb walls like a spider. These acrobatic skills help the animal hunt. But since it emerges from its den only at night, few humans ever see the Ringtail at work. And perhaps that’s just as well.
A Messy Eater
Here’s why: First, the Ringtail ambushes its prey (anything from a toad to a rabbit is fair game). Then, using its forepaws, it pins the animal down and, like a furry Count Dracula, administers a deadly bite to the neck. The meal proper then commences, usually with the Ringtail devouring its victim’s head.
It’s not a pretty sight for the queasy observer. But as many of our commenters point out, while nature is almost always amazing to observe, it’s not always pretty.
Have you ever encountered a Ringtail? Or another messy eater?
We always enjoy hearing our readers’ stories.