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All Things Raccoon.
Information and pictures on Raccoons.
Educational, Zoological, and Classification info.

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The Raccoon (Procyon lotor), also known as the Northern Raccoon, Common Raccoon, Washer Bear or Coon, is a widespread, medium-sized, omnivorous mammal native to North America. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, they have also been widespread on the European mainland and in the Caucasus region, after having escaped from fur farms. Raccoons usually live together in small, loose groups. Their original habitats are mixed or deciduous forests, but due to their adaptability, they are often found in urban areas where they can be considered pests at times.

AppearanceRaccoon
Adult weights vary with habitat and range and can range from 3-16 kg (6.6-35 lb) and measure 60-90 cm (24-36 in) along the body, minus the 25 cm/10 in tail. The smallest races are those found in Southern Florida, while those near the Northern limits of the raccoon's range tend to be the largest. The largest recorded raccoon was over 28 kg (61 lb), by far the largest size recorded for a family member of the Procyonidae. They have black facial colorings around the eyes, and have a bushy tail with light and dark alternating rings. The coat is a mixture of gray, brown, and black fur. On rare occasions, raccoons may be albino. Currently there is a search under way to validate sightings of half albino, possibly leucistic raccoons. These sightings have occurred in Indiana, specifically the West Lafayette region. The dark patches around the eyes, perhaps the raccoon's most prominent trait, are reminiscent of a "bandit's mask," which has enhanced its reputation for mischief, vandalism, and thievery.

Raccoons have 40 teeth, which are adapted to an omnivorous lifestyle. The chewing surface is not as wide as for herbivores, but the teeth are not as sharp and pointed as those of a carnivore.

Behavior
Raccoons are omnivorous, consuming a varied diet that includes berries, insects, fruit and small mammals. Raccoons sometimes wash, or douse, their food in water before eating it. It is not known why raccoons perform dousing, but cleaning food is unlikely to be the reason. Studies have found that raccoons engage in dousing motions when water is unavailable; researchers note that captive raccoons are more likely than wild raccoons to douse food. It has been suggested that captive raccoons are mimicking fishing and shellfish-foraging behaviors. It may also be that the raccoon is searching for unwanted material, as water is thought to heighten their sense of touch.

As city dwellers in the United States and Canada increasingly move into primary or second homes in former rural areas, raccoons are often considered pestsRaccoon because they forage in trash receptacles or eat dog food left on back porches. They are able to open garbage cans with their thumbs (which are not opposable).

Raccoons do not eat cats or dogs. However, they will attack and fight if cornered. If a raccoon appears to be overly aggressive and is attacking pets or people, then there is a good possibility that this raccoon is rabid. In this case the proper authorities should be notified.

Introduced into Germany in the 19th century, raccoons seeking food in wine cellars and storage areas have become a threat to the country's wine industry. Beginning in April 1934 raccoons, which were being commercially farmed in Germany for their then-fashionable fur, were experimentally released into the wild in the Kellerwald range. Population growth greatly accelerated in 1945 when disruption of the infrastructure led to numerous raccoons escaping from farms across Germany. Because they appeared to have minimal impact on forest ecology, raccoons were initially a protected species. This status has changed in recent years, however, as the species' population density in some regions may have reached 100 raccoons per square kilometer. In certain areas, hunters have been offered rewards to kill the animals.

Mating
Mating usually occurs in January or February, and a litter of four or five young are born in April or May (varies by climate). Raccoons usually live in hollow trees, ground burrows, or caves. They often travel along streams or rivers in search of food. However, there are raccoons that live in the forest not near any stream. Males have no part in raising the young. By late summer, the litter will be weaned and will begin to fend for themselves. In severe winter climates, raccoons may become dormant but do not hibernate. Not all sleep in the morning.

Range
Raccoons are common throughout North America from southern Canada to Panama. Raccoons are one of the largest animals to have adapted well to human development. Suburban areas, and many large cities, have significant raccoon populations. Raccoons are skilled foragers who can thrive on garbage and pet food. They have been known to take up residence in attics and garages, and even to enter houses through "pet doors" in search of food. When confronted by humans or household animals, raccoons may be aggressive, but urban raccoons tend to lose their fear of humans over time, which generally manifests as an attitude of "if you don't bother me, I won't bother you." A good example of this can be seen if a glass windowpane ever separates human and city-dwelling raccoon. As often as not, the raccoon's response will be indifference or even curiosity, even while under direct observation.

Common Raccoon native range in red, feral range in blue.
Raccoon

In 1934, Hermann Goering, then head of the Reich Forestry Office, gave permission for the release of a pair of raccoons into the German wilderness to enrich the fauna. The raccoons have since been extremely successful due to the lack of natural enemies. Others are believed to have escaped from fur farms during Allied bombing in World War II. The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported in 2002 that the raccoon had established itself in a small area of north-central France and in a considerable area of central Germany, where it had become a neighborhood pest to some and a beloved pet to others.

While raccoons held in captivity can live up to 20 years, they seldom live longer than 12 years in the wild, with most only living a few years. The species' life expectancy in the wild is only about 1.3 to 3.1 years, and only about half of all males survive their first year. Illnesses, accidents, and the death of the mother are the most common causes of death for young raccoons. For adult raccoons, traffic incidents and hunting account for more than 75% of deaths. In the 1980s in the United States, nearly five million raccoons were shot every year.

Disease
Raccoons can carry Baylisascaris roundworm, canine distemper, parvovirus and rabies. Of the 6,844 documented rabies cases reported in the United States in 2004, 37.5% were in raccoons (Krebs et al. 2005, pp. 1912-1925). Seeing a raccoon during the day is an indicator, though not absolute, that the animal may be ill. However, healthy animals, especially nursing mothers, may also forage for food in the daytime. Rabies may be entirely without visible symptoms in the raccoon.

Raccoon rabies is as dangerous to humans as any other strain, even though there is only one documented case in which it has led to a fatal case of human rabies. Any animal with suspected rabies should not be approached. If it requires euthanizing, the local health department should be notified to obtain instructions on means of disposal. Saliva, and other bodily fluids may carry the rabies virus. Many communities have animal control officers who can deal with rabid animals.

Rabies is so prevalent in some populations of wild raccoons that several states and the U.S. federal government, as well as authorities in Canada, have developed programs of oral vaccination to try to reduce the spread of this lethal disease.

As food
RaccoonRaccoons were a source of food for early American pioneers and provided a sizeable amount of protein. Raccoon is seldom eaten today. Some hunters consider it desirable and it is still consumed in certain regions of the American South.

An older edition of The Joy of Cooking has a recipe for preparing raccoon, along with squirrel, opossum, and other game animals. It is suggested that removing the musk glands and the fat before roasting (a favored cooking method) will help tone down the strong game flavor. Sweet potatoes are complementary with raccoon meat (which is dark) as either a stuffing or side dish.

The limited interest in raccoon consumption is likely attributed to the emotive association people have with the animal; being intelligent and adaptable. Its reputation as a scavenger is also a common factor with people (see Taboo food and drink). Other likely causes of disinterest are revulsion towards the raccoon's disposition to eating garbage, or its notoriety for incubating diseases (such as rabies).

As pets
Raccoons are sometimes kept as pets. The results of a successful ownership vary, depending on how responsible and knowledgeable the owner is of the raccoon as a species; as well as behavior, diet, etc.

In some states of the United States, it is illegal to keep raccoons as pets (see rabies). Other states allow the practice, but require exotic pet permits. Young orphan raccoons born in the wild may not always be a good choice for a pet - these animals are cared for and potentially released back into the wild through professional wildlife rehabilitation. Raccoons raised in captivity and released do not typically adapt well to life in the wild.

Tamed raccoons acquired from reputable breeders may make suitable pets. However the raccoon is still a wild animal by nature, so that is to be kept in mind before taming. Training raccoons is an intensive and ongoing process. During mating season, many captive raccoons retain destructive and/or aggressive natural behaviors, such as constant biting. These problems are usually resolved ahead of time by spaying and neutering at around four months of age. Raccoons from breeders can sometimes come in different color variations, such as silver, albino, blonde, black, cinnamon, cream, and red to name a few.

Although nocturnal, captive raccoons can be trained to sleep at night and to be active during the day. Captive raccoons can also develop obesity and other disorders due to unnatural diet and lack of exercise. Furthermore, many veterinarians may or may not be able to treat raccoons. It is of dire importance that people who attempt to obtain a raccoon as a pet do the usual homework.

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Procyonidae
Genus: Procyon
Species: P. lotor

Binomial name

Procyon lotor  (Linnaeus, 1758)

Synonyms

Ursus lotor Linnaeus, 1758
 

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