Kitt cats

The desert can be a challenging place to live. Animals' ability to move about gives them a distinct advantage over plants, as they can seek out new sources of food, and relocate to more comfortable quarters during times of harsh weather and extreme temperatures. Migration, whether horizontal (such as the flight paths of birds and butterflies) or vertical (going from desert floor to mountain top) is a device that many desert animals employ to make survival easier. Some of the animals that move up and down Kitt Peak are large cats. Mountain lions, also called puma, cougar, and catamount, are rarely seen by people. They are identified by their yellowish to tawny color (no spots), and long tail with black tip. Mountain lions are solitary and territorial, but, unlike most cats, they can be active during the daytime in undisturbed surroundings. Although most prefer deer as a food source, the cats will eat also coyotes, mice, raccoons, birds, and grasshoppers. The "scream" of the mountain lion's mating call can be a chillingly memorable experience.

Bobcats are smaller than mountain lions and appear grayer during winter months. Their slightly tufted ears and short, stubby tails make them easy to distinguish from their larger cousin. Found only in North America, they are the most common of all wildcats. Bobcats eat mostly hares and rabbits, but occasionally mice, squirrels, porcupines, and cave bats. If threatened, the bobcat may respond with a sudden "cough-bark." Astronomers occasionally spot bobcats crossing the Kitt Peak road, most likely as the bobcats make their way from one hiding place to another.

One cat that astronomers associate with the WIYN telescope is the ringtail, a feline with a catlike body, a foxlike face, and a very long, bushy banded tail. Several years ago, a ringtail made its home quite happily in the WIYN building, catching mice. Ringtail cat footprints discovered on the mirror caused quite a stir among astronomers who then had to wash the mirror with the greatest of care. The last straw, alas, was when the ringtail decided to play with dismembered mouse parts atop the mirror, prompting the astronomers to set humane traps so as to relocate the cat.

Astronomers from the 2.1-meter telescope, too, had a ringtail visitor who found easy pickings snagging sandwiches through a cable hole in a control room wall. 1t, too, was relocated farther down the mountain.

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