Ringtails mate in the spring, with females giving birth to up to four kits. Mothers do most of the nurturing, but fathers have been known to stay for a short time to play with the babies. It would have to be a short time though, as kits shed and are on their own at around 4 months of age.
Those who have caught a glimpse of this Texas native in its natural habitat should consider themselves lucky. With a face like a fox, a body like a cat, a tail like a raccoon, and the movements of a wildly energetic squirrel, the Ringtail is as elusive as it is adorable. Although ringtails are native to Highland Lakes, sightings are few and those who have seen one often wonder, “What the heck was that?”
Sometimes called the ring-tailed cat, crafty bassaricus It does not belong to either the cat family or the lemur family, despite its similarities to both species. It belongs to the raccoon family and, like its cousin, is nocturnal. His name is Latin for “cunning little fox”. Scientists often refer to ringtails as living fossils because they are so similar to their ancestors from the Neogene period, an interval between 23 million and 2.6 million years ago.
The ringtail is slightly smaller than a domestic cat with a nose-to-tail length of about 18 inches. At least half of its length is tail. It is a skilled night stalker with large cupped ears that can turn independently and large round eyes ringed in white.
The tiny creature is also an extraordinary climber thanks to its semi-retractable claws and hind legs that can rotate 180 degrees. He has superhero-like jumping ability and can bounce off vertical surfaces with ease. A ringtail may first run up the top of a tree, scale vertical walls, and climb cracks up the stem of a chimney, placing its back against one side and all four legs to the other.
Ringtails are rarely seen. They burrow in caves, crevices, hollow trees, brush piles, and even in the unoccupied dens of other animals. Also, these solitary creatures don’t stay in one place for more than a few days, most often making their homes in rocky landscapes near water.
They mark their territories, which range from 50 to 100 acres, with feces. Males establish larger territories, often overlapping that of females.
Ringtails spend each night looking for food. As morning approaches, they take shelter where it is most convenient. They have been known to briefly take up residence in deer stands, sheds, attics, or other vacant man-made structures.
Heard but not seen, ringtails are highly vocal creatures that bark, yell, chirp, meow, and give long, high-pitched calls to communicate. When threatened, a ringtail ruffles its fur, raises its tail, barks or growls, and releases a foul-smelling secretion from its anal glands.
Predators include coyotes, bobcats, great horned owls, cougars, humans, and cars. Ringtails in the wild live for about seven to 10 years.
Omnivorous eaters with excellent hunting skills, they have been known to devour rodents, insects, frogs, leaves, berries, and birds. After a meal, ringtails sit on their hindquarters and preen, like a cat, licking a front paw and cleaning their ears, face, and snout.
Each spring, female ringtails entice suitors with calls. Although the mating season lasts two months, March and April, the females are in heat for only 24 to 36 hours. They give birth to up to four kits just 50 days after fertilization.
At birth, puppies have a short, light-colored fluff, no teeth, and cannot see or hear. The females are the main caretakers of the young, but the males have been known to roam around and play with the young. At around four months of age, the young resemble adults and behave on their own.
Although largely unknown as native to the Highland Lakes wildlife, ringtails are gaining recognition in Central Texas through Ringo, the mascot of the Texas Stars hockey team. Ringo is currently recognized as the Best Mascot in the American Hockey League. (He also earned those honors in 2018 and 2019.) The Texas Stars hockey team is at home at the HEB Center in Cedar Park. Wild ringtails are at home just about anywhere in Central Texas.
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