Support hands-on science education in the Sierra Nevada

Surveying for Ringtails on the Bear River

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus)

Also known as: ring-tailed cat, miner’s cat, ring-tailed raccoon

Identifying features: Long white and black striped fur tail, large eyes surrounded by white rings of fur, short legs, large rounded ears, and long tan/orange/grayish body.

Closest relative: Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

By Chloe Tremper

Three out of five times when I tell someone that I am surveying for ringtails along the Bear River, they shoot me a quizzical glance and ask what the heck a ringtail is. That person then gets deluged with information about ringtails – the spiel usually goes as such:

Ringtails are a small mammal, about 2ft in length including the tail. They can be found throughout the western US – as far north as Oregon, as far south as Mexico, and as far east as Alabama. However, their distribution within their range is scattered and they tend to be found in riparian areas and in most forest and shrub habitats so long as there is adequate food and den sites available. They are omnivorous and tend to feed on insects, berries, rodents, reptiles, and birds – mistletoe is a favorite winter food source for ringtails in the Sierra foothills. These nocturnal creatures spend their days in dens, but they seldom use the same den site for more than a few days in a row. Usually, ringtails use hollow trees, logs, and snags or cavities within rocky outcrops and talus slopes as den sites. They’ll even den up in mine shafts (hence the nickname “miner’s cat”) and people’s attics. Ringtails are a highly understudied species and more research needs to be done on them to better understand their conservation needs.   Fun fact: ringtails can achieve higher urine concentrations than any other carnivore, which means they can go long periods without drinking water! Second fun fact: strawberry jam is a favorite treat of ringtails!

The first glimpse of a ringtail caught on camera! Fifteen game cameras have been placed at various sites along the Bear River to gauge the presence of ringtails in this area.

Now, back to the project: why am I surveying for these mysterious creatures? Sierra Streams Institute has recently started working within the Bear River watershed and we’re currently writing a restoration plan with the help of 200+ Bear River stakeholders. When writing a restoration plan, it’s helpful to have a full understanding of all the species present.   While we’ve been told that local landowners have seen ringtails on their properties before, no formal presence-absence surveys have been completed so I am working on filling that data gap. I am surveying for ringtails along the 6 mile stretch between Rollins and Combie Reservoirs, which is one of the largest wildlife migration and dispersal corridors in the Bear River watershed. Much of that area is prime riparian oak woodland habitat, which is ideal for ringtails. If I find that ringtails are present, we will be able to recommend further research be done on the species in our restoration plan.

Without the generosity of our community, I would not be able to complete these surveys. The Wildlife Project (http://thewildlifeproject.com/) lent us 15 game cameras, people have donated over 200 batteries, local landowners have allowed us access to their properties, and our awesome volunteers have donated hours of their time. Stay tuned for updates on what we find out there!

 

Banner image credit: http://online.sfsu.edu/bholzman/courses/Fall02%20projects/Ringtail.htm

Leave a Comment