'Educational' animal arrives at museum
Kenny Don/Special to The Explorer, Last month, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum welcomed its newest "animal ambassador," a baby ringtail. Recognized as Arizona's state mammal, this one weighed less than a pound.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum late last month made room for its latest “animal ambassador,” a nearly one-pound ringtail.

The baby animal made its debut at the museum’s Interpretive Animal Collection building, according to a release.

Called a “kit,” the young ringtail was born at The Living Desert near Palm Springs, Calif., in June.

As an “animal ambassador,” the ringtail kit will visit classrooms and help the museum’s education specialists teach area students about the Sonoran Desert and its residents, according to George Carpenter, curator of the Interpretive Animal Collection.

Ringtails can be found from southern Oregon to the Southwest to Texas and south into southern Mexico. The animals prefer rocky terrain, especially dry ecosystems like the Sonoran Desert region. A nocturnal omnivore, ringtails are related to raccoons and coatis and eat a variety of things, including fruits, arachnids, insects, reptiles, birds and small mammals — particularly rodents.

Official designated as Arizona’s state mammal, ringtails are uncommon sights in zoos and museums, but the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum has displayed the species for years.

Ringtails have about 14 to 16 black and white rings on their tails, which extend the length of their bodies.

“Nobody knows why ringtails and their relatives, the raccoons and coatis, have tails that are ringed with contrasting colors,” Carpenter said in a release.

Many experts speculate that the ringed pattern may help the animals communicate with each other in dark conditions using tail posturing, Carpenter added.

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