Although Ringtailed Cats are found throughout Texas, few people have ever seen them. They are very shy and keep under cover in the daytime, seldom coming out except after dark. They are appealing little animals, having a delicate pointed face which seems to be all eyes and ears. They weigh about two pounds, and are thirty inches long, of which half is tail. The long, bushy tail is the most conspicuous feature of the animal. It has seven black and seven white rings, and terminates in a black tip. Ringtails have short legs and small feet, and leave tracks which look slightly like those of a house cat.
Ringtails are known by many common names, most of them ending in "cat," such as miner's cat, band-tailed cat, civet cat, and coon cat. They are not cats at all, but are closely related to raccoons. They do resemble cats in that they are great mousers, and prospectors often encourage them to live near their cabins to rid the premises of rats and mice. Their long ringed tail shows their relationship to 'coons, but their head is shaped somewhat like that of a fox.
The ringtail's favorite habitat is along cliffs of desert canyons, and it was in such a canyon near Del Rio that two MTDNATS saw a ringtail during a Christmas bird count. The "squeaking" of the birders as they tried to attract birds was possibly the reason the little ringtail stuck his head out of the crevice in which he was hidden. He lay very still as the curious naturalists approached his resting place, and only backed away when they got within three feet. The lovely, brushy canyon where we saw the ringtail is now 300 feet deep under the waters of Lake Amistad. The canyons of the Edwards Plateau are favored by ringtails, and it was on the outskirts of a small hill country town where the Williams family saw a ringtail sitting in a fork of a small sapling. Wonderful to say, he sat there while they attached a telephoto lens to the camera and took his picture.
These two experiences reveal one of the characteristics of ringtails – their lack of fear of man and their relative friendliness compared to most wild animals. Their way of life has protected them and their fur is not valuable, so man has never hunted them. They have few enemies, although a large snake might possible take the babies.
Ringtails are omnivorous, eating both animal and vegetable food. Mice form a large part of their diet, although they also eat small birds, snakes, lizards, toads, grasshoppers and crickets. They like hackberries, mistletoe berries, juniper berries, persimmons, and cactus fruit.
Mexicans call the ringtail cacomistle or cacomixle. This is from two Indian words tlaco, meaning "half" and "mistli, a mountain lion. Their expert, silent hunting, their climbing ability and their nocturnal habits thus cause them to be compared to cats by all people who have had opportunity to observe them.