Program and General Information
Raccoons are distinguished by a black mask across the eyes and bushy tail with anywhere from four to ten black rings. The forepaws resemble slender human hands and make the raccoon very dexterous. The coloration of the raccoon varies with habitat, and ranges from grey to reddish brown to buff. Raccoons have a stocky build and typically weigh from six to seven kilograms (avg. 6 kg or 13.2 lbs). Males are usually heavier than females by 10 to 30%. The body length ranges from 603 to 950 mm (2 to 3 ft).
Raccoons are members of the Family Procyonidae which includes the cacomistle, kinkajou and coatis.
Common Physical Features
Raccoons are about the size of small dogs. They have a stocky build and typically weigh from six to seven kilograms (avg. 6 kg or 13.2 lbs). Males are usually heavier than females by 10 to 30%. The body length ranges from 603 to 950 mm (2 to 3 ft).They grow to about 23 to 37 inches and weigh 4 to 23 pounds.
The male raccoon, or boar, is slightly larger than the female, also referred to as a sow. The young are called kits.
The mask of black fur that covers its eyes is its most characteristic and familiar feature. One hypothesis for the dark fur is that it may help reduce glare and enhance the nocturnal animal’s night vision. The species has grayish brown fur, almost 90% of which is dense underfur to insulate the animal against the cold. Five to eight light and dark rings alternate on its tail. Because its hind legs are longer than the front legs, a raccoon often appears hunched when they walk or run.
Habitat and Global Range
Raccoons are found in North and Central America, Europe, and Japan. They are very adaptable, so they live in a wide range of climates and habitats. They typically make homes, called dens, in trees or caves, though they will also make homes in barns, abandoned vehicles, and other man-made locations.
As omnivores, raccoons eat vegetation and meat. The vegetation in their diet consists of cherries, apples, acorns, persimmons, berries, peaches, citrus fruits, plums, wild grapes, figs, watermelons, beech nuts, corn and walnuts. When it comes to meat, raccoons consume more invertebrates than vertebrates, according to the ADW. Some of the raccoon’s favorite animal treats are frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, rodents and bird eggs. When food is scarce, raccoons aren’t above scavenging human trash or eating roadkill.
Behavior and Life Cycle
Raccoons are not very social creatures. They are nocturnal and sleep during the day. During the winter, they tend to sleep more, but they do not hibernate in the traditional sense. They simply sleep while their bodies live off stored fat. They lose around 50 percent of their body weight during the winter.
Though these animals look like the outlaws of the outdoors, raccoons are very clean creatures. They are known to wash their food in streams and even dig latrines in areas they frequent regularly.
Baby raccoons are called kits of cubs and are usually born in the early summer. Females have one to seven offspring after a gestation period of 60 to 73 days. As a group, a mother and her baby raccoons are called a nursery.
For the first two months of their lives, babies live in their den and are weened at 7 to 16 weeks. At 12 weeks, they will start to roam away from their mothers for whole nights at a time. They become completely independent at 8 to 12 months of age. Raccoons live around 2 to 3 years in the wild.
- Raccoons have some of the most dexterous hands in nature. The English word raccoon comes from the Powhatan word aroughcun, which means, “animal that scratches with its hands.” The Aztecs went in a similar direction when naming the raccoon. They named it mapachitli or “one who takes everything in its hands.” Today mapache means “raccoon” in Spanish.
- There are six raccoon species native to North and South America.
- The black markings or mask that falls across their eyes help them to see clearly. The black fur works just like the black stickers athletes wear under their eyes. The dark color absorbs incoming light, reducing glare that would otherwise bounce into their eyes and obstruct their vision. At night, when raccoon are most active, less peripheral light makes it easier for them to perceive contrast in the objects of their focus, which is essential for seeing in the dark.
- Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca, which lived in the white house.
- Raccoons can be found across the world thanks to humans.
- Raccoons are among the rare species that have actually benefited from the spread of humans. Populations in North America have skyrocketed in the past several decades, and this is despite the destruction of much of the animals’ natural environment.
- While most animals use either sight, sound, or smell to hunt, raccoons rely on their sense of touch to locate goodies. Their front paws are incredibly dexterous and contain roughly four timesmore sensory receptors than their back paws—about the same ratio of human hands to feet. This allows them to differentiate between objects without seeing them, which is crucial when feeding at night. Raccoons can heighten their sense of touch through something called dousing. To humans, this can look like the animals are washing their food, but what they’re really doing is wetting their paws to stimulate the nerve endings. Like light to a human’s eyes, water on a raccoon’s hands gives it more sensory information to work with, allowing it to feel more than it would otherwise.
Raccoons can adapt their diet to scavenge, so they are a species that come into contact with people from time to time, particularly when they have discovered that scavenging through garbage or stealing pet food is a good way to eat. Inevitably, this can cause some conflict between raccoons and people.
It is important to remember that although raccoons are larger than some other pest animals, they are certainly not at the top of the food chain, and are killed and eaten by a range of other species. This means that when they encounter larger animals, which a person certainly will be, raccoons will flee, although in some areas such as parks where they are fed by people, they can learn to overcome this fear if they learn that there may be food for them in approaching people. Where a raccoon encounters a person unexpectedly, in most cases the natural instinct will be to look for an escape route.
When raccoons are cornered however, they cannot identify an immediate escape route, so there is a natural fight or flight instinct. When people approach raccoons they can become aggressive because they would view that person as a threat, and they may not be able to find an appropriate escape route. The key here is that in many of the situations where a person is attacked and scratched or bitten by a raccoon, this can be because they have approached the animal, rather than the raccoon actively seeking the confrontation.