California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Bay Delta Region

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  Napa, CA 94558
  (707) 944-5500

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  Stockton, CA 95206
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Acting Regional Manager:
Scott Wilson

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Stanislaus River Basin and Calaveras River Water Use Program
Threatened and Endangered Species Report - March 1995
Bay Delta and Special Water Projects Division, CA Dept of Fish and Game

Ringtail

Bassariscus astutus
California Department of Fish and Game "Fully Protected Species"

Life History

The ringtail is a slender procyonid with a tail that is often as long as the body. Body length ranges between 12 and 16 inches and the tail ranges between 12 and 17 inches. The general color is tan with black-tipped guard hairs dorsally, and yellowish white below (Kaufmann 1982). The tail is white with seven or eight black bands and a black tip. The ringtail is not much larger than a gray squirrel and weighs about 2 to 2.5 pounds. The raccoon is distinguished from the ringtail by its shorter tail, black mask, and larger size. A track of the ringtail will show five toes but not the semiretractible claws. The hind feet are unique in that they can rotate 180 degrees when climbing down a tree enabling it hold itself on the side of a tree while it is pointed toward the ground.

These nocturnal animals are primarily carnivorous, feeding primarily on rodents and rabbits but will also take substantial amounts of birds and eggs, reptiles, invertebrates, fruits, nuts, and some carrion (Taylor 1954, Trapp 1978). Food items may be obtained on the ground, among rocks, or in trees, but never far from water.

The range of the ringtail is north into southwest Oregon, throughout California except the agricultural portion of the Central Valley, east to Colorado, and south into Central America. They are found in dense riparian growth, montane evergreen forests, oak woodlands, pinyon juniper, chaparral, and deserts (Kaufmann 1982). Their territory is usually no farther than 1/2 mile away from a permanent water source and they find reproductive and resting cover in hollow trees, logs, snags, rocks, and abandoned burrows. Densities have been reported of one individual for 0.3 to 7.9 square miles (Belluomini 1980; Grinnell et al. 1937; Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988; Taylor 1954; Trapp 1978).

Ringtails mate in March and April and have a gestation of 40 to 50 days. One to five young (average three) are born in May and June. The young weigh one ounce, have closed eyes, and are covered with white fuzzy hair. The adult female keeps the male away from the young for about three to four weeks, until the eyes open. The young are weaned at three to five months at which time they then learn to hunt by watching the adults. Juveniles disperse in late fall and early winter.

Predators to the ringtail include bobcats, raccoons, foxes, and especially large owls, all of which are potential competitors for food. Other competitors include coyotes, rattlesnakes, and gopher snakes.

Findings and Conclusions

No reported occurrence of the ringtail along the Stanislaus River were found, however, portions of the riparian corridor are considered potential habitat. Any project impacting the riparian corridor of the Stanislaus River could potentially impact the ringtail and surveys would be required.