A ringtail made a temporary home in the rafters of the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center in Cedar Crest this week. “Ringtail cat” is a common name but they are not related to domestic cats. They are in the raccoon family. Like their cousins, they are nocturnal scavengers with good eye sight and widely varied diet.

Sandia Mountain Natural History Center in Cedar Crest is an educational outreach facility in partnership with Albuquerque Public Schools and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

About half of the employees are the center are museum employees and the other half work for the schools, according to Fiana Shapiro, Environmental Educator.

Shapiro teaches the ecology field program, which is the main program for 5th-grade students offered by the center. They run programs for Albuquerque schools, Rio Rancho schools, charter and private schools.

Shapiro also manages the trail cameras, scientific research projects and the social media for the center. She said a co-worker found the ringtail in the rafters of the center late last week.

She said before they learned that ringtails make temporary dens and can move on quickly, one of her co-workers attempted to “coax” it out of the rafters with apple slices. “We don’t normally feed the wildlife,” she said, adding, “But we wanted to make sure we got it out of there.”

These arboreal creatures are good at climbing. They can easily climb vertically up walls, cacti, trees and cliffs. They can also rotate their feet 180 degrees and do cartwheels using their tail to reverse directions, and they can fit into narrow spaces.

When they aren’t out scavenging for food, they are either in trees or in their den. Favorite spaces to create a den include cavities in trees or rocks, mine shafts, abandoned buildings, or they will also take over old dens of other animals, including humans. They can be found in rafters and attics.

Photo courtesy of the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center.

Ringtails favor rocky habitats with a close proximity to water. They can be found from southwestern Oregon, south through California, southern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and northern Mexico.

Ringtails are omnivorous and opportunistic eaters. Their diets include fruit (even cactus fruit), berries, insects, lizards, snakes, small mammals, birds and eggs. They live 6 to 9 years in the wild but can live much longer in captivity.

They weigh in at 1-2 pounds and are 24 inches long with their tails. They are mostly grey, with large eyes and surrounded by white fur. They have long bushy tails with alternating black and white rings, large round ears and short legs.

Shapiro said she has seen the elusive creatures, which she described as “squirrels of the night,” on wildlife cameras many times but has only seen one in person once. “They are stealthy,” she said. “They like to hang out by the water [on the property] which is how we caught them on camera so many times.”