Which animal would get your vote for the ‘cutest in North America?’ Before you make up your mind, make sure to acquaint yourself first with the adorable ringtail cat, a common but elusive little nocturnal animal found primarily in West and Southwest USA.

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These adorable animals are very wary of humans and are spotted less often than their close cousins, the raccoon. Because you see, while they are known as ringtail cats, they are actually not related to felines at all but belong to the raccoon family known as Procyonidae. The ringtail does have certain characteristics that remind us of a cat, though. For example, it cleans itself by licking its forepaw then uses it to wipe and clean its ears, face, and snout.

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The ringtails are also known by other names. They are called miner’s cats in some areas of the Midwest because they were commonly seen around mining camps, hunting for the rodents that were attracted to the miners and their food.

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Some people also call them civet cats because when something or someone frightens them, and they feel like they are in danger, they secrete the most disgusting odor from their anal glands in self-defense. Not so cool, that particular feature of these cute animals!

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These North American animals have a long and bushy tail, usually longer than the rest of the body. The large, dark brown eyes are masked by vivid white, and their pointy ears give an almost fox-like appearance.

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Like foxes, they have a developed set of sharp teeth, perfect for their omnivorous diet which primarily is made up of rodents, insects, rabbits and ground squirrels. The agile climbers and hunters will quite happily munch on snakes, lizards, birds, and frogs too, as well as acorns, berries, and fruit from the orchards. Hungry little things they are!

Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

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Despite their reputation as active hunters of smaller prey, the ringtails have got to be careful of predators themselves. Such American animals as great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), coyotes, (Canis latrans), bobcats (Lynx rufus) and mountain lions (Puma concolor) all have ringtail cat on their menus, so our cute little friends need to be wary when they are out and about on the hunt.

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Image credits: michael_pierceall

Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

It might be hard to see the ringtail, being nocturnal creatures and also very shy, but you just might be able to hear them if they are close by. With load and varied range of calls, this is probably what will first alert you to their presence.

Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

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When attacked the ringtail will not only release its foul skunk-spray, but it will emit an ear-shattering scream to go along with the stench. Adult ringtails communicate with each other via loud barking or a long-high wailing, whilst the young speak in a series of chirps and squeaks.

Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

In 1988, when schoolchildren were given the task of voting for the state’s animal, they decided on the ringtail. With cute and cuddly looks like these, who could blame them? We can only assume that very few of those schoolchildren accidentally activated that stinky anal gland though…

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Image credits: NPS (no claim to original U.S. Government works)

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Have you ever come across one of these adorable creatures in the wild? What do you think? Would you vote for the ringtail in a cuteness contest? What are its main rivals in North America? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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Image credits: CSERC