Raccoon

Raccoon

Common raccoon, North American raccoon, Northern raccoon, Coon

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Procyon lotor
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
2-20 yrs
TOP SPEED
24 km/h
WEIGHT
2-14 kg
HEIGHT
23-30 cm
LENGTH
40-70 cm

The raccoon is a 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 them to grab, hold and pull things apart. The raccoon is an excellent climber and is able to descend a tree face first or backward.

Distribution

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 the moist woodland area, but also live in farmland, suburban, and urban areas.

Raccoon habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Raccoons were previously thought to be generally solitary, however, there is now evidence that these animals engage in sex-specific social behavior. Related females often share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to 4 individuals, in order to maintain their positions against foreign males during the mating season, and other potential invaders. Raccoons are usually nocturnal, but they are sometimes active in daylight to take advantage of available food sources. They don't travel further than necessary, only as far as they need to in order to find food. Raccoons don't hibernate but in winter they tend to stay sleeping in their dens for several weeks. These animals prefer to build their dens in trees, but will also use woodchuck burrows, mines, caves, deserted buildings, garages, barns, rain sewers, or houses. They are strong swimmers, although somewhat reluctant ones, because swimming makes them heavier, as their fur is not waterproof. In order to communicate with each other raccoons make a range of noises including hisses, screams, whistles, growls, and snarls.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Raccoons are omnivores and what they eat depends greatly on their environment. They will commonly eat fruits, plants, nuts, berries, rodents, frogs, eggs, insects, and crayfish. In an urban setting, they will sift through garbage for food. Most of their diet is invertebrates and plants.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
February-June
PREGNANCY DURATION
2 months
BABY CARRYING
4-5 kits
FEMALE NAME
sow
MALE NAME
boar
BABY NAME
kit, cub

Raccoons are polygynandrous (promiscuous) meaning that both the males and the females have multiple mates. During the breeding season, males often extend their territory, presumably to encompass the home ranges of potential mates. Raccoons usually breed 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. In the fall, after their mother has shown them dens and feeding grounds, the juvenile group splits up. While many young females will stay close to the home range of their mother, young males can sometimes move more than 20 km (12 mi) away.

Population

Population threats

Raccoons have few predators but can be attacked by cougars, coyotes, and bobcats. Disease, infection, and cars accidents are the primary threats.

Population number

No overall population estimate is available for raccoons. According to IUCN, this species is generally quite common in North and Central America with an 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. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.

Ecological niche

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 a stable wild population.

References

1. Racoon Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raccoon
2. Racoon on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41686/0

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