Everybody is familiar with the raccoon and its iconic ringed tail and black mask, but how much do you know about them?
They have unfairly been branded as “trash pandas” but are brilliant animals with many exciting features. Continue reading to learn about these fluffy and sneaky creatures!
The mentioned raccoon is generally the “common raccoon,” native to North America, that is being referred to, although two other species exist. Humans have given them many nicknames, including but not limited to: trash panda, bandit, coon, and treasure cat.
They constitute the most prominent member of the Procyonidae family, with a length of 30-36 inches and a weight of 22 pounds. However, a well-fed male from a good neighborhood can measure 45 pounds.
Raccoons are widely recognized due to their distinctive characteristics. Its most differentiating features include the “mask” of dark fur around the eyes and its tail with black and white rings. The rest of its shaggy fur coat is typically gray, although it differs depending on the location. Raccoons living in the north tend towards blonde and brown colors. Meanwhile, those living in the south tend to be silver.
Their hands and feet are naked, but they are remarkably dexterous. This allows them to rummage through garbage skillfully/efficiently – amongst many other activities. Usually, they will get around using all four of their legs. But if need be, they have no problem standing on their hind legs to investigate something with their highly skilled hands.
Habitat and Distribution
The raccoon’s native range pertains to the southern parts of Canada and stretches to the northern parts of South America. Additionally, they were purposefully introduced to large amounts of Europe due to the fur trade, where Germany has the largest raccoon population of 1 million raccoons.
Resulting of a popular cartoon in the 70s, Rascal the Racoon, Japan imported many raccoons to be kept as pets. However, this backfired considerably. Japan currently faces a significant raccoon problem. Besides destroying crops and littering, raccoons cause damage to ancient temples with their sharp claws and large feces.
They prefer residing in forested areas since they use trees as an emergency escape route in case of danger. As crustaceans and amphibians form a large part of their diet, they usually reside near bodies of water, especially swamps, and marshlands.
When they need to sleep, they retire to hollow trees, rock crevices, riverbeds, or caves, although they rarely spend long periods same place. Being highly adaptable creatures, they have also grown accustomed to living in urban areas, frequently inhabiting abandoned houses.
Raccoons are omnivores and opportunistic feeders. They are not picky regarding food, and their geographical location determines their diet. Although, in areas with abundant food sources, individual raccoons have been recorded to develop specific food preferences.
In the wild, they consume berries, mice, eggs, fruit, and insects – among many other things. Moreover, they are very talented swimmers and will catch fish, frogs, and crayfish if granted the opportunity. Urban raccoons will mainly feast on what their local garbage can offers.
Before eating, they often rub their hands together as if washing them, which seems contrary to their perceived messy nature. What they are doing is covering them in water. They do this to heighten their tactile sensations, allowing them to investigate their food further. This act is known as “dousing.””
Although raccoons don’t hibernate, they do store an excess amount of fat in preparation for winter. Just before winter, a raccoon may weigh almost twice as much as they do in spring. Moreover, they are nocturnal animals. Consequently, they have excellent night vision and sense of hearing and are rarely active during daylight hours.
Mating and Life Cycle
The breeding seasons of raccoons differ greatly depending on the region, but January – March is the general tendency. Typically raccoons are solitary animals, and the mating season is the only interaction between them.
During mating season, males roam outside their home range, searching for a female to court. In some instances, the male remains with the female until birth, but he has no role in rearing them. Mothers will typically isolate themselves from other raccoons when their kits are young, as male raccoons often display aggressive behavior towards kits that are not their own.
The gestation period lasts just over two months, after which 1-6 kits are born. At birth, they are both blind and deaf, only leaving the den after 6-9 weeks. When they are two months old, they will join their mothers for hunts but remain homebound for a year.
Raccoons living in captivity can reach 20 years of age, but this number is substantially smaller for those living in the wild. A daredevil raccoon has a life expectancy of 2-3 years, and sadly only 50% of a litter of kits make it past one year.
Diseases such as distemper and rabies constitute the biggest raccoon killer and easily wipe out local populations. Harsh winters, and the lack of food that follows, is also common cause of death. In urban areas, however, traffic accidents are responsible for 90% of their deaths.
Fun Facts – That We Bet You Didn’t Know
Because of their reputation as “trash pandas,” it is often overlooked that raccoons are brilliant animals. According to research, a raccoon can remember a “solution” to a problem, i.e., how to open trash cans, for up to three years. Thanks to their nimble hands, they can readily unscrew jars and even uncork bottles.
Despite being highly intelligent, they are not perceptible to learning commands. For this reason, along with their unpredictable and potentially aggressive nature, it is not advisable to keep them as pets – although many do so anyways. The most famous pet raccoon was probably President Calvin Coolidge’s, whose name was Rebecca.
Raccoons are a symbol in mythology and feature in many Native American folk tales. Due to the raccoon’s mischievous nature, rumors often predicted them as tricksters or con artists. Likewise, some tribes believed them to have strong spiritual connections seeing as their”mas” resembles war paint.
Summary on Racoons
Thank you for reading this article! To uncover more facts about the creatures walking our planet, read about the African Wild Dog or Baby Racoons.
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