Bassariscus astutus (Lichtenstein, 1830)

Don E. Wilson & Russell A. Mittermeier, 2009, Procyonidae, Handbook of the Mammals of the World – Volume 1 Carnivores, Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 504-530 : 525-526

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Bassariscus astutus


4. View Plate 30: Procyonidae


Bassariscus astutus

French: Bassaris rusé / German: Nordamerikanisches katzenfrett / Spanish: Cacomixtle

Taxonomy. Bassaris astuta Lichtenstein, 1830 ,

Mexico City, Mexico.

Fourteen subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution.

B. a. astutus Lichtenstein, 1830 — SE Mexico.

B. a. arnizonensis Goldman, 1932 — USA (in and near Arizona).

B. a. bolei Goldman, 1945 — Mexico (Guerrero).

B. a. consitus Nelson & Goldman, 1932 — C & W Mexico.

B. a. flavus Rhoads, 1893 — N Mexico and S & C USA.

B. a. insulicola Nelson & Goldman, 1909 — Mexico (San José I).

B. a. macdougalli Goodwin, 1956 — Mexico (Tehuantepec, Oaxaca).

B. a. nevadensis G. S. Miller, 1913 — USA (Nevada & Utah).

B. a. octavus Hall, 1926 — USA (S California).

B. a. palmarius Nelson & Goldman, 1909 — Mexico (Baja California).

B. a. raptor Baird, 1859 — USA (N California & S Washington).

B. a. saxicola Merriam, 1897 — Mexico (Espiritu Santo I).

B. a. willetti Stager, 1950 — USA (SW California & E Arizona).

B. a. yumanensis Huey, 1937 — USA (Gila Mts, Arizona). View Figure

Descriptive notes. Head-body 30-37 cm, tail 31-44 cm; weight 0-87.1-1 kg. Ringtails are slimmer than cats but more robust than weasels, with incredibly long, bushy, black and white tails. This combination is unmistakable, and Ringtails are only likely to be confused with their congeners, Cacomistles. The two species are sympatric in part of their range, but can be distinguished by a number of characters. Ringtails are about one fourth smaller, with more contrasting facial and tail markings, and longer hindlimbs, which gives them a downward slanting profile from rump to nose. The body color of Ringtails is grayish above and white or buff below. Cacomistles are browner above and gray or tan below. The feet of the two species are also different, reflecting their different habitats, with Ringtails having short, straight, semi-retractile claws and digital foot pads surrounded by hair except behind the first digits. Finally, the Ringtail tail has black rings of uniform size, which are broken by white on the ventral surface, whereas the Cacomistle tail has unbroken black rings and the distal one third ofthe tail is nearly uniformly black. Within their range, the Ringtail coat color varies in predictable ways in being darker in forests, higher elevations, and higher latitudes and lighter in drier habitats, lower elevations and in the south of its range.

Habitat. Ringtails use a variety of habitats characterized by rocky outcroppings, canyons, or talus slopes. These include montane conifer forests, riparian areas, dry tropical habitats, chaparral, and deserts, including small urban nature preserves. They are typically found from sea level to 1400 m but are occasionally reported to 2900 m.

Food and Feeding. Ringtails eat small animals and fruit. Their steady, gliding motion allows them to catch a variety of prey the size of hares and smaller including rodents, lizards, snakes, and birds. Ringtails pin prey to the ground with their forefeet and begin their meal by consuming the head. Their diet varies seasonally and regionally as they take advantage of opportunities including raiding bat caves, predating bird nests, and feeding on nectar from agave. Individual meals consumed by wild Ringtails have been estimated at 55-90 g; captive animals can be maintained on 25 g of cat food and raisins per day.

Activity patterns. Ringtails are strongly nocturnal, with an aversion to daylight that begins soon after birth and persists through adulthood. Animals begin activity at or just after dusk and are back in their den sleeping before dawn, or within 45 minutes after daybreak.

Movements, Home range and Social organization. In high quality habitat Ringtails can live in densities of up to 20 ind/km? and use home ranges as small as 5 ha. However, densities are typically an order of magnitude lower, for example, 2-2—4-2 ind/km? in woodland habitat, where home ranges averaged 43 ha for males and 20 ha for females. Ringtails do not appear to be creatures of habit. They change dens frequently, rarely using the same rock crevice, hollow tree, or underground burrow for more than three consecutive days. In some areas their home ranges may also be dynamic, changing with the seasons, to the extent that some individuals use completely different areas from month to month. Ringtails appear to have a typical carnivore social structure with little sociality and males attempting to overlap and mate with one or more females. Telemetry studies suggest a social structure based on land tenure, with no signs of monogamy. Wild animals typically den separately, but can be kept together in captivity. Given their asocial tendencies most Ringtail communication is based on scent marks left in conspicuous places to denote territorial boundaries or communicate with potential mates. These marks include urine rubbed on the ground and on raised objects, and latrine areas with accumulated feces. These marks increase conspicuously just before and during the mating season. When they do encounter another animal, Ringtails may use a variety of generic vocalizations including squeaks, chucking and barks, hisses, grunts, growls, and metallic chirps.

Breeding. Ringtails are monestrous, and females show a vulva tumescence one to two weeks before copulation. Breeding can occur anytime between February and May, but is typically in March or April. The female will become receptive to a male for 24-36 hours. In this time the male chases the female and copulates several times per hour, in a sitting position. Ringtails have the shortest gestation of any procyonid, at 51-54 days, leading to birth of a litter of 1-4 young in May or June. Newborns are altricial, with fuzzy hair on their back and sealed eyelids that open after 3—4 weeks. Deciduous teeth appear at 3-4 weeks, with permanent dentition growing in by 17-20 weeks. They begin to eat solid food at 30-40 days and are weaned at about ten weeks. Cubs can walk well at six weeks and climb by eight weeks. Ringtails typically reach sexual maturity at two years, although mating has been reported after just one year. Captive animals live for 12-14 years, with one animal reaching 16-5 years.

Status and Conservation. Classified as Least Concern by The IUCN Red List. Ringtails are relatively common and widespread. In some regions they have adapted to find food and shelter in rural and urban habitats. They are harvested for their fur, although the fur is rated as poor quality and used only as trim.

Bibliography. Barja & List (2006), Poglayen-Neuwall & Poglayen-Neuwall (1980), Poglayen-Neuwall & Toweill (1988), Rodriguez-Estrella et al. (2000), Stake & Cimprich (2003), Suzan & Ceballos (2005), Toweill & Teer (1972, 1977), Winkler & Adams (1972).