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North American Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Size & Weight

Attribute Males & Females
Body Weight 0.82-1.3 kg (1.8- 2.9 lb)
Head & Body Length 305-420 mm (12.0-17 in)
Tail Length 310-441 mm (12-17.4 in)
Shoulder Height c. 160 mm (6.3 in)

General Appearance

Characteristics of the genus Bassariscus (from Zeveloff 2002 unless otherwise noted)

  • Smallest procyonids
    • c. size of an average domestic cat
  • Face fox-like with large ears
  • Large eyes
  • Whiskers
  • Carnassial teeth, sharp and capable of slicing through muscle

Species-specific characteristics (B. astutus) (summarized from Nowak 1999; Zeveloff 2002)

  • Dorsal pelage
    • Gray with yellowish tinge, typically
  • Under parts
    • White or white washed with buff
  • Eyes
    • Dark
    • Ringed with black inset within white fur
  • Tail bushy
    • As long as or longer than head and body
    • Banded with black and white along its length
    • Terminal black tip
  • Ears rounded

How to distinguish the two Bassariscus species

Cacomistle (B. sumichrasti)Ringtail (B. astutus)
Size Larger Smaller
Pelage Brownish; less contrasted face Gray; more contrasted face
Tail Length Longer Shorter
Ears Pointed/tapered; shorter Rounded; longer (+7%)
Feet Soles naked; black Soles furry; grayish-buff

Sexual Dimorphism

Male slightly larger than females (Nowak 1999; Hoffmeister 1986)

  • Male mass c.20% greater than that of females, according to measurements of live trapped ringtails in California's Central Valley (Belluomini 1983)
    • Male: c. 1.126 kg (range 1.000-1.350 kg)
    • Female: c. 0.958 kg (range: 0.800-1.170 kg)

Other Physical Characteristics

Scat identification (from Trapp 1978)

  • Odor
    • Minimal; a mild fruity smell
    • Unlike the musky smell of fox scat
  • Appearance
    • A single segment, most often
    • Length: c. 46 mm (1.8 in)
    • Diameter: c. 10 mm (0.4 in)
  • Location
    • Droppings deposited on or near those of other animals, or elevated on boulders, logs, or stumps near trails


Ringtail face

Ringtail on a rock

Ringtails are characterized by large rounded ears, large eyes, and a distinctive tail.

Image credits: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Belluomini (1983)
Hoffmeister (1986)
Nowak (1999)
Poglayen-Neuwall and Toweill (1988)
Trapp (1978)
Zeveloff (2002)

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