Shout it out if you can name Arizona's State Mammal!
Coyote? Good guess, but wrong. Mountain Lion? Fearsome, but no. Javalina? Mule Deer? Antelope? Antel-nope! Feel like you've run out of Arizona mammals? Shame on you! How can you forget Bassariscus astusus, the lithe little critter that 'round these parts we call the Ringtail Cat?
In your defense, the shy, nocturnal Ringtail Cat tends to keep a low profile and isn't spotted as often as many of the more commonly observable local mammals. Even though they're plentiful around Sedona, you're only likely to see one scooting along the shoulder of the road up Oak Creek Canyon late at night.
However, casting scientific and journalistic objectivity aside for a moment, let's get one thing straight: on the adorability scale, the Ringtail Cat beats the fuzzy pants off all other 49 State Mammals, paws down. With their wide, Bush Baby eyes, elegant fur, long striped tail and pointed face, the Ringtail Cat looks a bit like a hybrid of a raccoon, fox and housecat. Even their scientific name is cute, meaning "clever little fox."
Though they have some cat-like habits, Ringtails are actually members of the raccoon family. They can be found all over the Southwest, and up the West Coast into Southern Oregon. Rocky terrain is their preferred habitat, and many live in the red rock Canyons of Sedona and all along Oak Creek Canyon.
The best time to try to spot one is at night, as they hunt the insects, lizards and small rodents.
They are excellent climbers, using their long tails for balance and long, sharp claws for grip up rocky vertical surfaces. They can even plant their back feet and rotate them 180 degrees to change direction if needed.
With their appealing looks and inquisitive nature, (campers often discover them rummaging through backpacks and campsites for snacks) people have long felt compelled to connect with the Ringtail Cat. They have even been bred domestically, and captive-born Ringtails reportedly make easy and affectionate pets. (Before you think you'll cut to the chase and trap one in the yard, however, consider this advice from a Ringtail breeder: "Adult breeders are easy to handle with a good pair of welder's gloves.")
Turn-of-the-century miners in Arizona used to domesticate the Ringtail and keep them around the mines to control the rodent population, hence the Ringtail's other common name, Miner's Cat.
So keep your big ol' Grizzly Bear, Montana. Wisconsin will have to be content with its boring badger. Hey, New Jersey, who needs your horse(?). Arizona is proud of the Ringtail Cat, holding office as State Mammal since 1986. Long may he reign.
Article by Sarah Horton