Cacomistle Facts

Scientific Name: Bassariscus sumichrasti

Cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti)
Cacomistles have pointed ears and tails that fade to black toward the end.

Autosafari / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

The cacomistle is a shy, nocturnal mammal. The name refers to members of the species Bassariscus sumichrasti, but it's often applied to the closely related species Bassariscus astutus. B. astutus is also called the ringtail or ring-tailed cat. The name "cacomistle" comes from the Nahuatl word for "half cat" or "half mountain lion." The cacomistle is not a type of cat. It is in the family Procyonidae, which includes the raccoon and coati.

Fast Facts: Cacomistle

  • Scientific Name: Bassariscus sumichrasti
  • Common Names: Cacomistle, cacomixl, ringtail, ring-tailed cat, miner's cat, bassarisk
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 15-18 inch body; 15-21 inch tail
  • Weight: 2-3 pounds
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Mexico and Central America
  • Population: Unknown
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

The genus name Bassariscus comes from the Greek word "bassaris," which means "fox." Cacomistles have masked faces and striped tails like raccoons, but their bodies appear more like those of foxes or cats. Cacomistles have grayish brown fur with white eye patches, pale underparts, and black-and-white ringed tails. They have large eyes, whiskered, pointed faces and long, pointed ears. On average, they range in size from 15 to 18 inches in length with 15 to 21 inch tails. Males tend to be slightly longer than females, but both sexes weigh between 2 and 3 pounds.

Habitat and Distribution

Cacomistles live in tropical forests of Mexico and Central America. They are found as far south as Panama. They prefer the middle to upper levels of the forest canopy. Cacomistles adapt to a range of habitats, so they may be found in pastures and secondary forests.

Map of cacomistle range
The cacomistle lives from southern Mexico to Panama. Chermundy / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Cacomistle vs. Ringtail

The ringtail (B. astutus) lives in the western United States and Mexico. Its range overlaps that of the cacomistle (B. sumichrasti). The two species are commonly confused, but there are differences between them. The ringtail has rounded ears, semi-retractable claws, and stripes all the way to the end of its tail. The cacomistle has pointed ears, tails that fade to black at the ends, and non-retractable claws. Also, ringtails tend to give birth to multiple cubs, while cacomistles have single births.

Captive ringtail (Bassariscus astutus)
Ringtails have rounded ears and fully banded tails. Michael Nolan / Getty Images

Diet and Behavior

Cacomistles are omnivores. They feed on insects, rodents, lizards, snakes, birds, eggs, amphibians, seeds, and fruit. Some use bromeliads, which live high in the forest canopy, as a source of water and prey. Cacomistles hunt at night. They are solitary and remain in large ranges (50 acres), so they are rarely seen.

Reproduction and Offspring

Cacomistles mate in the spring. The female is only receptive to the male for a single day. After mating, the pair immediately separate. Gestation lasts approximately two months. The female builds a nest in a tree and gives birth to a single blind, toothless, deaf cub. The cub is weaned around three months of age. After its mother teaches it how to hunt, the cub leaves to establish its own territory. In the wild, cacomistles live between 5 and 7 years. In captivity, they may live 23 years.

Conservation Status

Both B. sumichrasti and B. astutus are classified as "least concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The population size and trend for both species is unknown. However, both species are thought to be common throughout most of their ranges.

Threats

Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation due to deforestation is the most significant threat to cacomistle survival. Cacomistles are also hunted for fur and meat in Mexico and Honduras.

Cacomistles and Humans

Ringtails and cacomistles are easily tamed. Settlers and miners kept them as pets and mousers. Today, they are classified as exotic pets and are legal to keep in some U.S. states.

Sources

  • Coues, E. "Bassariscus, a new generic name in mammalogy." Science. 9 (225): 516, 1887. doi:10.1126/science.ns-9.225.516
  • Garcia, N.E., Vaughan, C.S.; McCoy, M.B. Ecology of Central American Cacomistles in Costa Rican cloud forest. Vida Silvestre Neotropical 11: 52-59, 2002.
  • Pino, J., Samudio Jr, R., González-Maya, J.F.; Schipper, J. Bassariscus sumichrasti. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T2613A45196645. do:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T2613A45196645.en
  • Poglayen-Neuwall, I. Procyonids. In: S. Parker (ed.), Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, pp. 450-468. McGraw-Hill, New York, USA, 1989.
  • Reid, F., Schipper, J.; Timm, R. Bassariscus astutus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41680A45215881. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T41680A45215881.en