Ring-tailed Cacomistle

Bassariscus astutus

Order: Carnivora

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements – Much of what is listed below comes from the AZA Procyonid manual

  • Square footage is 177 with a height of at least 10 ft tall.
  • Multiple areas/structures that are permanent or removable should be made available in the exhibit and holding areas.
  • Multiple substrates can be used but if the majority of the exhibit/holding is concrete then dirt, pebbles, river rocks, moss, straw, leaves, pine shaving, and plants should be added.
  • Structures in an exhibit should not all be cleaned at the same time. Instead, they should be cleaned as needed on a rotating basis.
  • Fecal material and leftover food should be removed daily with the associated substrate cleaned or removed
  • In the wild they are always found near water so depending on the size of the water dish 1 to 2 dishes or tubs should be provided.
  • At least two nest boxes should be provided, more for a family group. (Ringtails are known to use one box as a latrine and the other as a den).
  • Containment is extremely important. These animals are very good at squeezing through small areas. I would recommend that the enclosures (indoor and outdoor) be completely enclosed. Mesh be not more then 1/2 inch in diameter.

Diet Requirements

  • Omnivores but mostly they eat meat.
  • Wild diet consists of mice, lizards, wood rats, birds, eggs, insects, nectar, berries and soft fruits. New research from David Wyatt, a biology professor at Sacramento City College, suggests that Mistletoe plays a large role in their diet including how big of a territory they will occupy.
  • Captive diet can consist of feline kibble, fruits, vegetables, insects, rats, mice, Ginnie pig, rabbit, chick, quail, cooked chicken, beef, bison, beef bones (raw), insects and cooked egg (scrambled or hard boiled).

Veterinary Concerns

  • Vaccines for Rabies and K9 distemper
  • Fecals at least 2 times a year to check for internal parasites especially if the exhibit is out doors.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Because these animal are very good climbers multiple structures and levels should be provided for them to explore including rope (approximately 1-2 in diameter) for them to climb.
  • Offering lose substrate in tubs or pans to hide insects in for foraging and hanging food containers are good enrichment. Food puzzles are a good option as well.
  • These animals are trainable but need to stay motivated. Also for education they must be handles from a young age. At CuriOdyssey males have been historically much more handleable then the females. They have had wild rehab males that have been easier to handle then imprinted young females.
  • Behaviors at CuriOdyssey that have been trained (historically) with this species: target, crate, touch, up (front feet in trainers hand), paint (foot in paint and then on paper), voluntary injection, station, currently working on nail trim and harness and leash (this behavior ha only been successful with the males) .

Programmatic Information

Tips on Presentation

Tips on Handling

Potential Messaging

  • Very few people know that Ringtails even exist so this is a great species to use when talking about small carnivores and native wildlife (for some states).
  • Climate change: Desert and Dryland species have specific adaptations for the temperature and water availability in their natural habitat and may not be able to adjust to the drying effects of climate change. Hotter conditions promote wildfires. More extreme drought conditions kill plants that hold the soil in place and occasional extreme rain events wash that soil away preventing them from growing back in a process called desertification. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Please ask guests to walk, bike, or take public transportation when possible and to reduce their use of fossil fuels when they do drive by buying a fuel economic car, carpooling, combining errands, and keeping vehicles properly tuned up and their tires properly inflated. At home and work, purchase Energy Star appliances, turn off lights when they are not in use, and use heaters and air conditioners sparingly. The principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle will also help by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions involved with the manufacture and disposal of unnecessary goods. http://www.unep.org/geo/gdoutlook/045.asphttp://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/ https://biomesfirst09.wikispaces.com/Desert+Conservationhttp://www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/pdf/Desert_Ecosystems_Paper.pdf

Acquisition Information

  • There are a few zoos that do breed this species. Check with the AZA Ringtail and Cacomistle studbook keeper for more information:

Debbie Thompson, Studbook keeper
Little Rock Zoo
1-501-666-2406 ext. 106
email: dthompson@littlerock.state.ar.us

  • Check with your state Fish and Wildlife and Health Departments for permitting. Some state (CA) require an import permit and a 90 quarantine even for AZA facilities.

Comments from the Rating System

  • CuriOdyssey: Easy to care for and and they have unlimited enrichment potential, clear messaging (habitat, native, food web, adaptations); Even with very experienced handlers we have found that the females of this species can be very difficult to handle. In the past our males have been easier to handle although some of them would not allow a harness and only a collar could be used. Given their tendency to nip/bite I would not recommend them to touching.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico.
Found in brushy and wooded areas at lower and middle elevations, as well as semi arid deserts, common in foothill canyons, prefers to be near water

Physical Description

Sexual Dimorphism – None
Weight – 900-1100 g (2-2.5 lbs)
Length – head-body = 36-41 cm (14-16 in),
tail = 38 cm (15 in)
Dentition – I 3/3, C 1/1, P 4/4, M 2/2 = 40 teeth

  • Ringtails are buff to dark tan in color and have long black and white ringed tails. Their extremely long tail is used for balance and can also be arched over their back, making them appear larger to predators.
  • They have a pointed muzzle, giving them a fox-like face, and large dark eyes.
  • Ringtails typically do not construct dens; they will change dens frequently, rarely spending more than three consecutive days in the same shelter. Dens are secreted among boulders near canyon bottoms or in hollow trees.
  • They are good climbers and can climb up narrow passages by stemming (placing their feet against one wall and their back up against the other wall or two feet on each wall).

Life Cycle

Life span in the wild is about 8 years
Captive life span 17 years (male from CuriOdyssey)
They mate in the spring and have a gestation period of about 45-50 days.
Three to four kits are born in May and June and are covered with white fuzz.
Their eyes open at four to five weeks and they venture out of the den at about two months. The young stay with their mother until August or September.
Sexual maturity is reached at about 10 months.


Ringtails make coughing sounds and secrete a foul smelling liquid from their anal glands when they are agitated.


Ringtails are excellent climbers – their hind feet swivel 180° to help with grip. They also have thick fur between the pads of their feet and semi-retractable claws. Their strong hind legs enable them to leap 10 ft or more with little effort.


Threats and Conservation Status

No special status. The number of ringtails in the wild is not known, since they are very rarely seen. They used to be hunted for their fur, but their fur was considered to be of poor quality. In California it is a protected species.

Did you know…

  • According to early stories, ringtails were tamed by gold miners for company and also to rid camps of mice. This is where the nickname “miner’s cat” comes from. However, they are not related to cats, but rather to raccoons.
  • The Latin name for a ringtail means “clever little fox”.
  • Predators include bobcats, owls, coyotes, foxes, and raccoons.
  • Ringtail cacomistles are the official state mammal of Arizona.


Contributors and Citations