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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Ringtail
Order Carnivora : Family Procyonidae : Bassariscus astutus (Lichtenstein)

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus).  Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.Description. A cat-sized carnivore resembling a small fox with a long raccoon-like tail; tail flattened, about as long as head and body, banded with 14 to 16 alternating black and white rings (black rings incomplete on underside), and with a black tip; five toes on each foot, armed with sharp, curved, non-retractile claws; upperparts fulvous, heavily overcast with blackish; face sooty gray with large, distinct, whitish area above and below each eye, and one at anterior base of each ear; eye ring black; back of ears whitish toward tip, grayish basally; underparts whitish, tinged with buff; underfur all over plumbeous. Dental formula as in raccoons. External measurements average: (males), total length, 802 mm; tail, 410 mm; hind foot, 78 mm; ear, 55 mm; (a female), 714-350-65 mm. Weight, 1-1.5 kg.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Statewide, but uncommon in lower Rio Grande and Coastal Plains of southern Texas.

Habits. Ringtails live in a variety of habitats within their range, but they have a decided preference for rocky areas such as rock piles, stone fences, canyon walls, and talus slopes. They occur less commonly in woodland areas where they live in hollow trees and logs, and they are also known to live in buildings. They are expert climbers, capable of ascending vertical walls, so they have little difficulty in searching out and denning in well-protected crevices, crannies, and hollows.

These "cats" are almost wholly nocturnal and spend the greater part of the day asleep in their dens and venture forth at night to feed. Resting dens seem to differ in no essentials from nursery dens. One nursery den found in Mason County was in a crevice near the bottom of a rocky bluff. It was about 12.5 cm in diameter at the entrance and tapered to a narrow crack about 75 cm beyond. A female and her four young were occupying it at the time. No nest was constructed for the young. In this section of Texas, rock fences seemed to be favored denning sites. Another nursery den found in McCulloch County was in an old hollow stump on the side of a rocky bluff. A nest consisting of a few dry leaves was in the bottom of the cavity.

Ringtails eat a wide variety of foods. In central Texas, as judged by the examination of the digestive tracts of more than 100 ringtails, their diet consists of small passerine birds (9.9%); small mammals (rats, mice, squirrels, cottontails), including carrion (24.4%); snakes and lizards (3.9%); toads and frogs (0.2%); insects, mostly grasshoppers and crickets (31.2%); spiders, scorpions and centipedes (11.1%); and fruits of native plants, principally persimmon, hackberry, and mistletoe (19.3%). The diet varies with the season: largely birds, mammals, and fruits of hackberry and mistletoe in winter; mammals, insects, and juniper berries in spring; insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and persimmon fruit in summer. Insufficient data are available to determine the food in autumn.

The breeding season appears to be restricted to a relatively short period of the year. In central Texas, the females appear to come into heat about April 1. Most females examined between April 15 and May 18 were pregnant. The exact gestation period is unknown, but it is probably about 45-50 days. In 10 females examined, the number of embryos ranged from two to four, averaging 3.3. At birth, the young are covered with short, whitish hair; they are blind, the ears are closed, and they are nearly helpless. The eyes open about 31-34 days after birth; the ears about a week earlier. The juvenile pelage, which is similar to that of the adult but paler and fuzzy, has replaced the natal pelage by this time. At the age of 4 months the young are indistinguishable from adults, except for their smaller size.

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.