Creatures of the night – Ringtails

Ringtails ( Bassariscus astutus), also known as ring-tailed cats, are related to racoons and coatis. Ringtails are common in the Sonoran Desert, but are rarely seen because they are almost exclusively night prowlers.

A Ringtail adult is about 16- to 24 inches long and sports a bushy tail with white and black bands. The tail is usually longer than the body. Each dark eye is surrounded by a white ring.


This animal is found throughout the Southwest and into central Mexico. It is usually a canyon dweller. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) reports a “large” population near Tucson. During the day, the Ringtail occupies rock crevices, hollow trees, or caves. They are good climbers.

At ASDM, many of the exhibits in the cave may have footprints on the inside of the glass – Ringtails have managed to “get behind the scenes.”

Each Ringtail marks its territory with urine and droppings and it can emit a strong-smelling liquid from its anal glands (but can’t spray like a skunk).

Ringtails are omnivores that feed on rodents, fruit, birds, snakes, lizards, and insects. They have large eyes and a keen sense of smell.

According to ASDM:

“Ringtails inspect likely niches and hiding spots in their rocky habitats, hunting for rodents, birds, centipedes, and anything else edible. They are excellent mousers, pouncing and killing with a bite to the back of the rodent’s neck.”

“Ringtails are strictly nocturnal animals, using their large eyes and keen sense of smell to locate prey. They are excellent climbers and leapers, using their long tails for balance as they negotiate steep canyon walls or trees with equal ease. The ringtails have semi-retractable claws and can rotate their hind feet 180 degrees, allowing them to descend cliffs face first. They den in niches in rock walls, boulder piles, or hollow trees. Ringtails are solitary, only pairing up for a few days of mating in April. The two to four kits are born in June. By fall the young can hunt for themselves and soon disperse. Though fierce little fighters, ringtails fall prey to great horned owls, bobcats, and coyotes.”


The Ringtail is the official Arizona State Mammal. (Click the link to see more photos and a video.)

Find out more about the natural history of the Sonoran Desert. Here are articles published so far:


Thirteen venomous animals of the Southwestern desert.


Curve-billed Thrasher – a bold and inquisitive bird

Great Blue Herons in the desert

Peregrine Falcons

Ravens and Crows

Vultures, the clean up crew

Thick-billed Parrots in Arizona

Gambels Quail

Mourning Doves

Cactus Wrens – Arizona’s very noisy state bird

The Greater Roadrunner

Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias and a cameo appearance by Phainopepla

The Three Accipiters

The Red Tailed Hawk

The Great Horned Owl

Playing with Harris’ Hawks

The American Kestrel

Barn Owls

Western Screech Owl

Nighthawks and Poorwills, birds of the night

Observations on Hummingbirds


Spinytail Iguana


Gopher Snakes

Gila Monster

Metachromatic Spiny Lizards

The Horned Lizard’s clever defenses

Remember the Glyptodonts

Notes on rattlesnakes


Black Bear

Kangaroo rat


Skunks of Arizona

Creatures of the Night: The Bats

The Mountain lion dietary supplementation plan

Ferocious Grasshopper mouse

Pack Rats are Desert Archaeologists

Wolf attacks on humans in North America

Notes on Coatis

The Urban Coyote

Notes on Javelinas

Desert Squirrels

New mountain lion takes over at the Desert Museum


Praying Mantis

Black Widow Spiders

Mist of the Sharpshooters

Green lynx spider

Desert Bees

Venomous Centipedes and Cyanide-Oozing Millipedes

The Gentle Desert Tarantula

The Cochineal, a little bug with a valuable product

Vinegaroons and Sun Spiders

It’s time for scorpions

Pepsis wasps have the most painful sting


Creature of the Night – Spadefoots

The Sonoran Desert Toad


Desert Ironwood

Agaves provide food, fiber and adult beverages

A Boojum, definitely a boojum

Ocotillo – an aide to hummingbirds and geologists

Senita and Totem Pole Cacti

Chiltepin peppers, spice and medicine


Brittlebush and chewing gum

Life on a Dead Saguaro

Saguaro Cactus Icon of the Sonoran Desert

The Creosote Bush

Passion Flower

Yuccas provide food, fiber, and soap

The Jojoba bush and its valuable oil

Arizona Christmas Cactus

Mesquite trees provide food, fuel, medicine, and more

Cactus water will make you sick

Palo Verde trees about to turn the desert golden