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North American Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle


  • Rarely active in daytime (Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988; Trapp 1978)
  • Commonly feed at night; sometimes active near dusk (Trapp 1978)

Home Range

Home range size (from summary by Wyatt 1993 unless otherwise noted)

  • Varies widely
    • Independent studies employ different techniques; results not easily comparable
    • Smallest ranges reported in riparian forest habitat (Lacy 1983; Wyatt 1993)
      • E.g., 0.05-0.14 km2 (12-35 acres), reported in one 8 month study in a California riparian forest (Lacy 1983)
  • Between 0.05 and 3.49 km2 (12-862 acres), based on calculated estimates reported from population studies in Arizona, California, Texas, and Utah

Sex-specific differences

  • Males travel in larger areas than females, based on reports in many studies (Wyatt 1993)

Social Groups

Solitary except during mating season (Nowak 1999)

  • Males may stay near females for a few months, although this is uncommon in the wild

Territorial Behavior

Mark territorial borders

  • Urinate and defecate regularly (Nowak 1999)


Aggressive displays

  • Snap and aggressively bark or growl (Willey and Richards 1981)


Play behavior (summarized by Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988)

  • Bat at objects or others with the forefeet
  • Bounce on one another
  • Pick up objects with the mouth and toss them by flipping the head


Sound features (summarized from Hoffmeister 1986; Nowak 1999; Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988; Willey and Richards 1981)

  • Fox-like calls (Grinnel et al 1937)
  • Alarm or defensive displays
    •    Arrhythmic sounds:
      • Sharp bark (140-400 Hz)
      • Growl (180 Hz)
      • Piercing scream (1.5-2.6 kHz)
      • Hiss
    • Rhythmic sounds:
      • Whistle-grunt (Willey and Richards 1981)
        • Rhythmic sequence indicates social tolerance


  • Chittering
    • Loud rhythmic pulses (7 kHz) every 0.5 s, lasting 5 min or more (Willey and Richards 1981)


  • Metallic chirps, squeaks (Richardson 1942)
  • Whimpering
  • Mewing, by young while nursing (Willey and Richards 1981)

Female estrous call (Willey and Richards 1981)

  • Similar to chitter of sub-adult, but with a lower acoustical frequency and fewer pulses per second (Willey and Richards 1981)

Olfaction/Scent Marking

Anal gland secretions

  • Musky odor (Richardson 1942)
  • Not typically detected by humans, except in close proximity (Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988; Richardson 1942)

Urine (from Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988; Richardson 1942)

  • Rubbed on ground or raised objects
  • Home range marker

Fecal deposits (Barja and List 2006)

  • Latrines (sites containing multiple fecal deposits) are most common
    • Located at territory boundaries, most often
    • Possibly function as territorial markers, inter-group signal
  • Solitary fecal deposits located toward center of territory
    • Possibly function as intragroup signal

Seasonal marking

  • Urine deposition and scattered defacation often apparent before and during the mating season (Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988; Richardson 1942)


Climb in trees and on cliffs and ledges (from Trapp 1972 unless otherwise noted)

  • Agile and quick (Nowak 1999)
    • Ricochets off vertical surfaces; to leap across large open expanses
  • Headfirst, vertical descent
    • Possible due to great dexterity of hind foot, 180o rotation
  • May hang upside-down while traveling
  • "Chimney stemming"
    • Mountaineering technique for climbing a crevice; placing hands and feet against one wall pressing the back against the other

Walk on toes

  • Gives appearance of gliding (Grinnel et al 1937; Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988)
  • Hind feet follow path of forefeet (Grinnel et al 1937)
    • Foot-prints of the hind feet often fall on top of those of the forefeet

Tail used for balance (Trapp 1972)

  • Held arched over back toward head when crossing open spaces (Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988)

Miscellaneous Behaviors

Sleep (summarized by Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988)

  • Warm weather
    • Lie on side or back, with rear legs spread and forelegs in air when exceptionally hot
  • Cold weather
    • Curled with feet under body, head against belly and tail wrapped around body

Grooming (summarized by Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill 1988)

  • Mothers groom offspring
  • Self-grooming
    • Cat-like licking of forefeet coupled with wiping of head from behind ears toward muzzle, scratching, and nibbling

Hunting Behavior

ringtail viedo

Ringtails rely on speed and agility to hunt at night.

Click on image for video. © From ARKive. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Barja and List (2006)
Grinnel et al (1937)
Hoffmeister (1986)
Lacy (1983)
Nowak (1999)
Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill (1988)
Trapp (1972)
Trapp (1978)
Richardson (1942)
Willey and Richards (1981)
Wyatt (1993)

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