One of my favorite of Utah’s mammals, though quite rarely seen, is the Ringtail or Cacomistle. His nocturnal lifestyle as well as his coloring and size are somewhat similar to Utah’s raccoons; but he is much more cat-like than a raccoon. In fact, he is rather like a cross between a fox, a cat and a raccoon! He is typically about 2 pounds and about 15 inches long in the body with an equally long tail. It is this long tail that gives him his name, being long and bushy with alternating black and white rings, ending with a black tip. It is this long, extraordinary tail that provides the Ringtails a great deal of balance as they lithely climb trees as a means of escape, attack, rest, and recreation. Since they are nocturnal, they often spend their days resting in the treetops, making them quite difficult to spot. Often, the only means of spotting a Ringtail will be to find their long tail dangling from a high-up tree bough! Although the Ringtail preys upon other animals, he is also a prey animal himself and must always be on the lookout for such enemies as foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, hawks, eagles and owls.
Found primarily in America’s southwestern states and into the majority of Mexico, the Ringtail prefer to live in rocky and densely wooded areas and is known to kill his prey in much the same manner as a cat, lying in wait until they suddenly pounce and kill by means of a strong bite to the neck. Their prey most commonly includes rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards and frogs. Although he does prey upon these animals, the Ringtail is an omnivore whose primary food is berries and insects as long as they can be found. It is during the winter months when such food is scarce that the Ringtail typically turns to a more carnivorous diet.
Since the Ringtail, if it can be captured at a young age, can be quite easily tamed or domesticated, it was once used by miners for the purpose of keeping rodent populations to a minimum within the mines; which gave the Ringtail yet another name: “Miner’s Cat.”
In Utah, the Ringtail can be found in both Zion as well as Bryce Canyon National Park. However, it would require quite a lot of patience, silence and luck, as well as a readiness to keep watch all through the night. Although he may be in the tall pine trees just above your head, you are not at all likely to see the Ringtail with your own eyes.