Common raccoon, North American raccoon, Northern raccoon, Coon
The raccoon is bear-like mammal of medium size. Its fur is gray to brown, with a black mask surrounding its eyes and white fur on the outside of the mask, around its nose and a stripe running from its nose to its forehead. It has a ringed, bushy, tail and five toes of each of its black paws. Its paws resemble human hands to some extent. Their toes, being flexible, help it to grab, hold and pull things apart. The raccoon is an excellent climber and is able to descend a tree face first or backwards.
The raccoon is a native of North America and lives throughout the United States, as well as parts of Mexico, Canada, and the north of South America. In the 20th century it was introduced elsewhere in the world and now is common in Russia, Germany and Japan. Raccoons are able to live in a wide range of habitats from cold grasslands to warm, tropical areas. They need to be close by water and prefer to inhabit moist woodland area, but also live in farmland, suburban, and urban areas.
Habits and lifestyle
The raccoon is mostly nocturnal, and it is solitary, except for mothers with their young. In winter the raccoon tends to stay sleeping in its den for several weeks. It does not hibernate. They prefer to build their dens in trees, but will also use woodchuck burrows, mines, caves, deserted buildings, garages, barns, rain sewers, or houses. Raccoons make a range of noises including hisses, screams, whistles, growls and snarls. They are strong swimmers, although somewhat reluctant ones, because swimming makes them heavier, as their fur is not waterproof. Raccoons don't travel further than necessary, only as far as they need to in order to find food.
gaze, nursery, committee, smack, brace, troop
Diet and nutrition
The raccoon is an omnivore and what it eats depends greatly on its environment. It will commonly eat fruits, plants, nuts, berries, rodents, frogs, eggs, insects and crayfish. In an urban setting it will sift through garbage for food. Most of its diet is invertebrates and plants.
During mating season, males often extent their territory, presumably to encompass the home ranges of potential mates. Raccoons are polygynous and after mating males and females do not continue the association. The breeding seasons runs from February to June. Northern populations usually breed earlier than those in the south. Following a gestation period of about 2 months, the female gives birth to 4-5 kits or cubs. From about 20 weeks old the kits forage with their mother during the night and remain living in her den. Weaning occurs at about 70 days.
February-June, peak in March
Raccoon have few predators but can be attacked by cougars, coyotes, and bobcats. Disease, infection, and cars accidents are the primary threats.
No overall population estimate is available for raccoon. According to IUCN, this species is generally quite common in North and Central America with increasing population trend. The estimated population in the Caucasus region is about 20,000 animals. In Germany in 2012 the estimated number is more than a million. The ICUN classifies the raccoon as "Least Conern".
Raccoons control the populations of their primary prey. Where they mainly eat one type of prey, e.g. insects, crayfish, or clams, this can impact a population to a large extent.
Fun facts for kids
- The raccoon is a close relative of the bear family, though its scientific name means "washer dog" (Procyon lotor).
- Raccoons are smarter than cats but less smart than monkeys.
- Christopher Columbus wrote about raccoons and is the first person known to do so.
- A raccoon can rotate its hind feet 180 degrees to enable it to climb down headfirst from trees.
- "Raccoon," from the Algonquin Indian "arakun," has the meaning "he scratches with hands".
- A raccoon washes its food before eating it. If there is no water, it will rub off the debris.
- A baby raccoon will tweet like a bird or whine, and chatter when it is hungry or cold or misses contact with a warm body.
- Raccoons will avoid eating tomatoes, due to the high acidic content.
- In Japan, following the success of Rascal the Raccoon, an anime series from 1977, up to 1,500 of the animals were imported for pets, some of them escaped and formed stable wild population.