Dogs, Cats, and Bears (Order: Carnivora)

Dog-like Carnivores (Canidae Family)

Two species of wild canids have been documented at Quail Ridge. Coyote (Canis latrans) are about the size of a medium-sized dog, with grayish fur. They are opportunistic feeders who feed primarily on small rodents, but will eat seeds and berries, which can be seen in their scat. Coyotes often are nocturnal but may also be active during the day. Coyotes are rather secretive and their presence is best detected by their tracks and scat, which they Gray Fox; Photo courtesy of Alden M. Johnson © California Academy of Sciencesoften leave in roadways, and the chorus of howls and high pitched yaps that is heard some evenings. Coyotes have been called defiant song-dogs, and are among the most adaptable mammals in North America, found in almost all habitat types. The smaller gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) has gray dorsal pelage, with a black stripe running down the tail to the black tip. The fur is rusty colored on the legs, feet, and neck. Tracks resemble those of a small dog, but are narrower. Gray foxes tend to occur in chaparral and open woodland habitats. They are one of the most arboreal of the canids, and are highly omnivorous, feeding on small mammals, birds, insects, eggs, fruits, etc.

Raccoon; Photo courtesy of Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of SciencesRaccoons and allies (Procyonidae Family)

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) have alternating black and gray strips on the tail, which is shorter than the body length, and a black “mask” that covers the face. Raccoons live along streams in wooded areas and are highly omnivorous. Raccoons are known to raid pet food dishes that are left outside, and are strong and dangerous opponents. Raccoons are primarily nocturnal and not often seen, but their tracks are easily identified – they look like the prints of tiny human hands, reflecting the high dexterity they have with their digits. Their smaller relative, the ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), has a long slender body with a black and white banded tail, which is longer than the body. Ringtails are nocturnal and highly arboreal animals that feed on small mammals, birds, and sometimes fruits from manzanita, cascara, and madrone.

Skunks (Mephitidae Family)

Two species of skunk may occur at Quail Ridge; both are known for their smell and often are detected by odor before sight. Both of these species are principally nocturnal. The larger and more common of these is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), with twin white stripes over a black body. They are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of prey including small rodents, insects, eggs, berries, and much more. They remain active throughout winter and generally are solitary, although females sometimes Western Spotted Skunk; Photo courtesy of Alden M. Johnson © California Academy of Sciencescongregate in dens, which are under rocks, wood, or buildings. Western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis) have been documented on the Reserve by tracks, although they have yet to be seen. These animals are easily distinguished from the striped skunk by their much smaller size and by the broken stripes, or spots, covering the back. They are primarily carnivorous but will feed on some vegetable matter. They are nocturnal and solitary, sticking to the ground to forage, but they will retreat to the trees from danger. They will spray a deterring odor at danger. Skunks can be important vectors for rabies and are the principal reservoir in California, so animals that appear unhealthy or that are moving about during the day should be avoided.

Black bear; Photo courtesy of Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences
(Ursidae Family)

The Black bear (Ursus americanus) is the largest predator in California and can be recognized by its brownish to black coat and large size (although they are small compared to other North American bears). As with most bears, these are opportunistic omnivores, feeding primarily on roots, fruits, nuts and grasses, but they will feed on small rodents, fish, grubs, and other edible material. They are primarily solitary unless with cubs, and are principally nocturnal.


Mountain Lion; Photo courtesy of Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of SciencesCats and allies (Felidae Family)

Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are one of the largest mammals at Quail Ridge and cannot be mistaken for any other species. They are large (1.2-2.5 m in length) cats with a tawny pelage and a long, black-tipped tail. Kittens have black spots. Mountain lions have very large home ranges and primarily hunt mule deer, although other medium-sized mammals may be taken as well. Mountain lions have been observed at least five times in the past several years at Quail Ridge, and it is likely that they are residents here.

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) have very short tails, which are tipped with black on the top, and gray to reddish fur spotted with brown or black. Ears have black tufts at the tip. Bobcats are nocturnal, occur in most habitat types, and hunt in rocky and brushy areas. They are relatively generalist predators, eating small mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians.

Species Accounts

Mammals Page

Photo Credits: Title, Mule Deer (Mike Benard), Gray Fox and Western Spotted Skunk(Alden M. Johnson), Racoon (Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles), Bear and Mountain Lion (Gerald and Buff Corsi). For more pictures see:

This page last updated: June 24, 2005  

Contact: Dr. Virginia Boucher
John Muir Institute of the Environment
109 The Barn, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
Phone: 530-752-6949; email:

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