The Crab-eating raccoon is a species of raccoon native to Central and South America. They resemble their northern cousin, the Common raccoon, in having a bushy ringed tail and "bandit mask" of fur around the eyes. Unlike the Common raccoon, the hair on the nape of the neck points towards the head, rather than backward. Crab-eating raccoons are well adapted to an arboreal lifestyle having sharp and narrow claws. They are also adapted for a diet of hard-shelled food, having large cheek teeth, with broad, rounded cusps. Their fur is brownish-grey in color and legs and feet are dark brown and slender. The tail is bushy and has pale and dark rings. Males are usually larger than females.
Found in Central and South America, including Trinidad and Tobago, the range of Crab-eating raccoons extends from Costa Rica south through most areas of South America east of the Andes down to northern Argentina and Uruguay. These animals live in marshy and jungle areas. They are almost always found near streams, lakes, and rivers. Less frequently, they will reside in evergreen forests or the plains but are only rarely found in rainforests.
Crab-eating raccoons are generally solitary and nocturnal creatures. They are primarily terrestrial but will spend a significant amount of time in trees. Males are solitary but can tolerate other males around a feeding area. During the breeding season, young males usually disperse to other areas, while young females stay within their mother’s territory. These animals have very sharp senses and are very intelligent. They have a well-developed sense of touch, and they use their hands as tools. They use their hands to handle and manipulate food before eating it. Raccoons also are known to "wash" their food before consumption by dipping it in the water with the help of their forepaws.
Crab-eating raccoons are omnivores and eat crab, lobster, crayfish and other crustaceans and shellfish, such as oysters and clams. Their diet also includes small amphibians, turtle eggs, and fruits.
Crab-eating raccoons have a polygynous mating system in which one male mates with more than one female during the breeding season. These animals breed between July and September. The gestation period lasts between 60 and 73 days. Offspring are born in crevices, hollow trees, or abandoned nests from other creatures. Between 2 and 7 kits are born, with 3 being the average. Crab-eating raccoons usually breed only once per year, however, if a female loses all her kits early in the season, they will mate again and have a second litter. Males have no part in raising young, and while attending to young, females will become much more territorial and will not tolerate other raccoons around them. Kits are usually weaned between 7 weeks and 4 months and become independent at the age of 8 months. Both young males and females become reproductively mature when they are 1 year old.
Crab-eating raccoons are threatened by the overhunting for their pelts, pet trade, and habitat destruction. In some areas, projects that include coastal development and mangrove destruction affect declines in this species population.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Crab-eating raccoon is unknown. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.
Due to their diet, these raccoons control the populations of their prey. Crab-eating raccoons are also prey, to local predators and thus may affect their populations.