2015 AH Classic Wall CalendarShop the AH Store >>

Our 2015 calendars are now available!

Classic Wall Calendar

CL15 $10.99

Our classic 13-month spiral-bound calendar features 30 full-color photographs and a handy map of Arizona on the back.

Order Now >>
Purchase Camping GuideShop the AH Store >>

Featured Book

Arizona Highways
Camping Guide

AGCS3 $22.95

Our newest book, which includes Arizona Highways iconic photography and maps, is sorted by region and is written for car-campers and families. Detailed information about accessibilty, amenities and fees is included for each campground.

Order Now >>
2011 AH Wildlife CalendarSee Selection of Images >>

Featured Prints

Poster Prints
Special Edition Prints

Many of the extraordinary images found in our award-winning magazine, scenic coffee-table books and exquisite calendars can be purchased as fine posters and prints.

Order Now >>
Shop the AH Store >>

Featured Gift Item

Centennial Issue Reprint

SPCENN2 $4.99

If you missed our February 100-page Centennial Issue on newsstands earlier this year, here's your second chance to get a copy of this special collector's edition of Arizona Highways magazine..

Order Now >>

  • print page
  • Tell a Friend
  • Post to Facebook
  • YouTube
  • past to del.icio.us
BULLETnature archive
Nature Archive Photo
© Bruce D. Taubert

>> Click on image to view
it larger in a separate window.
Tall Tails
With a tail that stretches up to 14 inches, the ringtail is easily identified in the great outdoors. It's the name that gets confusing. Although they're mistakenly referred to as ringtail cats, ringtails actually have more in common with raccoons than felines..

By Jodi Cisman

if you ask most Arizonans, they can usually identify the state flower (saguaro blossom), the state flag and maybe even the state motto ("God Enriches"), but when it comes to the state mammal, they're usually stumped. Bear? Bobcat? Beaver? Nope. The wily ringtail is Arizona's warm-blooded vertebrate of choice. It's a distinction it's held since 1986, and it's certainly worthy.

Ringtails played an important role in the taming of Arizona and the American West. Sort of. When pioneers began making their way out West during the Gold Rush, they noticed a small, agile creature with a vibrant tail that nested in rocky dwellings and dead tree trunks.

Ringtails, which are easily domesticated, were often kept as pets by miners because they were affectionate and exceptionally good at ridding cabins and mines of disease-spreading rodents and insects.

Although ringtails are known by many names — ringtail cats, miner's cats, civet cats and coon cats — they're more closely related to raccoons than felines. They acquire their catty nicknames because of their feline behaviors: They only come out at night to hunt and mate, and they tend to be timid and reclusive creatures.

Their most noticeable features are their namesake tails, which are large and fluffy, and stretch 14 inches with 14 to 16 contrasting black-and-white rings from base to tip. They're handsome-looking tails, but more importantly, they aid in agility by helping the ringtails maintain their balance — ringtails can rotate 180 degrees and have been seen doing cartwheels and ricocheting between stone walls.

When they're not doing acrobatics, ringtails have a fluctuating diet, depending on the season. In the summer, they feed on mostly spiders, crickets, scorpions and grasshoppers, while in the fall their diet shifts primarily to plants. As the months roll on, the winter chill provides a hefty bounty of rodents, rabbits, squirrels and small birds, which sustain them until spring, when the ringtails enjoy the occasional hackberry, persimmon or mistletoe snack.

On the other side of the food-chain equation, bobcats, foxes and large owls often make meals out of ringtails. Which goes to show, even the state mammal is subject to the cycle of life.

>> Back to Nature Archive

Story ArchivesFind previously published stories online... [more]

Global SnapshotsSend us a photo of you or someone you know posing with Arizona Highways. We'll post it on our website. It's that simple... [more]

Photo of the DaySend us a photo of you or someone you know posing with Arizona Highways. We'll post it on our website. It's that simple... [more]


Social MediaJoin our Facebook, Twitter and Flickr communities for behind-the-scenes glimpses at Arizona Highways... [more]

Events & PromotionsEscape, experience and explore Arizona, one event at a time... [more]

Travel GuidesThere's so much to see and do in Arizona. Let our online travel guide be your one-stop resource for planning your next Arizona adventure... [more]

site map  |  terms of use  |  privacy policy  |  corporate sales  |  about us  |  contact us

Arizona Highways Television AZ Dept. of Transportation AZ Dept. of Public Safety Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

© Copyright 2014 Arizona Department of Transportation, State of Arizona. All rights reserved. Reproduction in part or whole without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. The images on this Web site are copyrighted, digitally watermarked and registered with the Digimarc tracking system. All rights reserved. Copying and downloading images from this site are strictly prohibited.