When people think of Colorado wildlife, they’re likely imagining a black bear wandering through the forest on a hunt or a herd of elk grazing in a distant field. However, many locals and tourists, alike, seem to miss one of Colorado’s most unique species – the ringtail.
Settlers once referred to the ringtail as the “miner’s cat” and would domesticate them to hunt rats in their cabins. Despite many nicknames (ringtail cat, civet cat, bassarisk, and cacomistlehe), the ringtail is not a cat. Ringtails belong to the same family as raccoons and coatis and are found in Colorado, along with nine other western states.
In February 2019, a Colorado Springs news station published a video that captured a ringtail inside of a Cañon City Burger King. Though present in the Centennial State, this species is rarely seen.
A nocturnal species, the ringtail is a small, secretive creature, weighing about 3 pounds with a ring-patterned tail of 12-17 inches long - nearly half their body length, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The ringtail is an extremely agile climber that uses its tail to balance and can rotate their feet 180-degrees to climb in any direction.
Researchers say this animal’s ringed tail could be part of a defensive tactic, as is the case with tigers, raccoons and other nocturnal animals. The light-colored sections of the tail may encourage a predator to attack the animal in that area rather than its body, where vital organs are.
Ringtails are commonly seen in desert areas of southwestern states, but have also been spotted in the foothills of Colorado’s Front Range and canyons of the Western Slope, according to wildlife officials. They eat mice, insects and birds.
If you happen to spot this animal while out and about in Colorado, keep your distance. Though cute and fuzzy, these creatures are still wild and can act aggressively. Instead, snap a picture and send it our way!